Global Child Death Rates Drop Dramatically

A UNICEF report finds mortality rates have been almost cut in half, but more needs to be done.

Rates of malaria, polio and measles have dropped dramatically around the world, contributing to the decrease in global child death rates. (Photo: Marco Di Lauro/Getty Images)

Sep 13, 2012
Jeannine Stein, a California native, wrote about health for the Los Angeles Times. In her pursuit of a healthy lifestyle she has taken countless fitness classes, hiked in Nepal and got in a boxing ring.

Child deaths have been on a steady decline around the world in the past 20 years, a UNICEF report says, but more needs to be done to stop young children from dying from preventable diseases.

The number of children under the age of five who have died has almost been halved, going from almost 12 million in 1990 to about 6.9 million in 2011. The report, issued today from UNICEF and the United Nations Inter-agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation, pinpointed countries and regions where more efforts and resources are needed to stop more children from dying.

“We’re concentrating our energies much more on the countries where the biggest challenges remain,” UNICEF Chief of Health Ian Pett said in a news release. “We’re re-focusing on the killers of children that haven’t received enough attention yet.”

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In 2011 half of the deaths around the world in children under five happened in five countries: India, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Pakistan and China. By region, Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest mortality rate; there, on average one in five children is dead before the age of five.

Worldwide, about 40 percent of all deaths of children under five happened with in the first 28 days of life, most of them due to preterm birth complications and problems during delivery. Around the world, more than a third of deaths can be linked to undernutrition, which UNICEF defines as the result of hunger and recurring infectious diseases.

Great progress has been made, the report notes, in combatting malaria, polio and measles. Lower rates of polio and measles can be chalked up to vaccines, and the drop in malaria is due to focused programs such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis.

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In a foreword to the report, UNICEF executive director Anthony Lake wrote, “Our advances to date stem directly from the collective com­mitment, energy and efforts of governments, donors, non-gov­ernmental organizations, UN agencies, scientists, practitioners, communities, families and individuals.”

But rates of pneumonia and diarrhea remain problematic in many countries; in June UNICEF released a report saying that a little under a third of deaths among children under five are due to those illnesses, and that millions could be saved with solutions such as cleaner water, better sanitation and more immunizations.

The new report said that infectious diseases are commonly found among the poor and at-risk “who lack access to basic prevention and treatment interventions.”

“It’s important that, in all countries, we continue to target the most vulnerable populations,” Pett said. “This isn’t just in delivering health services; it’s also focusing on the major determinants of health outcomes, such as the mother’s education, good communications, good infrastructure and good governance.”

What is the most eye-opening part of the report for you? Let us know in the comments.

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