TALLAHASSEE, Florida — There has been a steady decrease in child death rates since 1990; a sign that we are making the right efforts to yield steady and positive change. However, we have just approached a benchmark that has not been fulfilled.
In 2015, the current rate of progress is slower than expected. According to The World Bank, as of 2013 more than half of all countries were not on track to reduce the under-5 death rate by two-thirds by 2015, which was Goal 4 of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) laid out by the UN.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that 5.9 million children have died so far this year. This equals about 16,000 every day. The good news lies in the global report: “under-five mortality rate has decreased by 53%, from an estimated rate of 91 deaths per 1000 live births in 1990 to 43 deaths per 1000 live births in 2015.”
However, some crucial shortcomings lie in specific areas.
“The risk of a child dying before completing five years of age is still highest in the WHO African Region (81 per 1000 live births), about 7 times higher than that in the WHO European Region (11 per 1000 live births).”
The UN Summit fact sheet on Goal 4 from 2010 details the lack of growth in sub-Saharan Africa, as well as Southern Asia. It comes as no surprise that these areas are also two main sources of poverty and therefore, suffer from widespread malnutrition and lack of access to primary health care as basic as water and sanitation.
Pneumonia, diarrhea, malaria and AIDS accounted for 43% of all deaths in under-5s worldwide in 2008, and more than one-third of all child deaths were attributable to malnutrition.
The sobering thing about that fact is that all of those causes are treatable. The UN deserves credit for acting on this issue by making progress in routine immunizations, promoting breastfeeding and providing mosquito nets, among other efforts.
However, the UN recognizes that without sustained funding for immunization activities in priority countries, mortality could rebound quickly.
One success story of sustained care is the program that the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo launched last year with support from UNICEF.
According to UNICEF, “the programme is in response to A Promise Renewed, the call to action of the international community to make extra efforts to accelerate reduction of child and maternal mortality rates – in which DRC ranks among the highest in the world.”
“To tackle the problem, UNICEF developed a new approach to treatment of childhood illness: the family kit. The kit includes paracetamol to control fever and zinc and oral rehydration salts to prevent dehydration from diarrhea. These can be used by a parent to treat a sick child before bringing him or her to the health centre.”
On a bigger scale, UNICEF is the world’s largest purchaser of vaccines, procuring more than 40% of all vaccines used in the developing world. The impact that these vaccines have had on the world is great, but the job is nowhere near done.
The countries with the highest child death rates (like sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia) are suffering the most, and not seeing much improvement. As such, the UN may need to refocus some of its efforts to affect the areas that are in greater need.
Fortunately, they do have plans to that end. “With the end of the MDG era, the international community is in the process of agreeing on a new framework – the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) where the target is to end preventable deaths of newborns and children under 5 years of age,” says the WHO.
But, a plan is just a plan, and if the MDGs are any indication, a new framework might not be enough to make the necessary changes happen. The UN needs to feel a sense of urgency about this, and those countries that have the resources to help developing countries improve their health care (namely, the U.S.) should take a second look at their agendas for the upcoming year.
– Ashley Tressel