Dramatic improvement in child survival possible

13 SEPTEMBER 2013 | NEW YORK/GENEVA

Globally, the number of deaths among children under 5 fell from an estimated 12.6 million in 1990 to approximately 6.6 million in 2012 according to a new report released by UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Bank Group and the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs/Population Division. Moreover, the world is currently reducing under-five mortality faster than at any other time during the past two decades. The global annual rate of reduction has steadily accelerated, more than tripling since the early 1990s.

“This trend is a positive one. Millions of lives have been saved," says Anthony Lake, UNICEF Executive Director. "And we can do still better”. While the global average annual rate of reduction in under-five mortality accelerated from 1.2 per cent a year for the period 1990-1995 to 3.9 per cent for 2005-2012, it remains insufficient to reach Millennium Development Goal 4 which aims to reduce the under-five mortality rate by two-thirds between 1990 and 2015. The report cautions that as many as 35 million more children could die mostly from preventable causes between 2015 and 2028, if the global community does not take immediate action to accelerate progress.

Newborns at greater risk

Pneumonia, diarrhoea, and malaria remain leading causes of child deaths globally, claiming the lives of around 6,000 children under five each day. Undernutrition contributes to almost half of all under-five deaths. The first month of life is the most precarious for a young child. In 2012, close to three million babies died during the first month of life, mostly from easily preventable causes.

“Care for mother and baby in the first 24 hours of any child’s life is critical for the health and wellbeing of both,” says Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General at WHO. “Up to half of all newborn deaths occur within the first day.”

The lives of most of these babies could be saved if they had access to some basic health-care services. These include skilled care during and after childbirth; inexpensive medicines such as antibiotics; and practices such as skin to skin contact between mother and newborn babies and exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life.

Reversing these devastating trends requires immediate action on multiple fronts, as outlined in the Millennium Development Goals - reducing poverty, decreasing maternal mortality, boosting education and gender equality, and promoting environmental sustainability.

The 2013 Progress Report on Committing to Child Survival: A Promise Renewed

Over a year ago, the Governments of Ethiopia, India and the United States, together with UNICEF, launched Committing to Child Survival: A Promise Renewed, a global effort to stop children from dying of causes that are easily prevented. The 2013 Progress report on these commitments examines trends in child mortality since 1990, analyses the main causes of under-five deaths, and highlights national and global efforts to save children’s lives.

The progress made to date is due to the collective efforts of governments, civil society and the private sector, as well as the increase in affordable, evidence-based interventions. “Continued investments by countries to strengthen health systems are essential to ensure that all mothers and children can get the affordable, quality care they need to live healthy, productive lives,” says Keith Hansen, Acting Vice President of Human Development at the World Bank Group.

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