NEW YORK / GENEVA – Last year, 17,000 fewer children around the world died each day than did in 1990. This is one of the main conclusions of a joint report by UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO), and the World Bank. The good news comes as a result of more effective and affordable treatment, innovative ways of getting critical interventions to the poor, and improved nutrition and maternal education, states the report.
In almost all regions, except for sub-Saharan Africa and Oceania, the mortality rate for children under five was reduced by 50 percent or more since 1990. Six high-mortality and low-income nations (Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Liberia, Malawi, Nepal, and United Republic of Tanzania) reduced their under-five mortality rates by two-thirds or more in the last 22 years. An additional 18 high-mortality nations also halved the under-five rate in the same period of time.
There is still much room for progress, however. The latest figures imply that 18,000 children under the age of five still died every day in 2012. Although the annual rate of reduction of under-five mortality has increased from 1.2 percent to 3.9 percent in the past two decades, this is short of achieving the Millennium Development Goal 4, which is to reduce under-five mortality by two-thirds between 1990 and 2015. To achieve this, the current pace of reduction would need to quadruple from 2013 to 2015.
By redoubling efforts in those countries with the highest child mortality rates, this objective might still be within reach. The report states that half of under-five deaths occur in only five nations: India, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Pakistan and China. The leading causes of death are also highly preventable, such as pneumonia, diarrhea, malnutrition, preterm birth complications, and malaria.
Following a three-pronged strategy to achieve the target, millions more lives may be saved. This would require that governments in high-mortality countries strengthen their health systems and management. Ethiopia, India and 176 other countries have already pledged to devote more resources to reaching the 2015 goal.
Second, availability and access to medical supplies, interventions and new technologies must be dramatically improved. Some of the initiatives with the most impressive results include mass distribution of treated bed nets to prevent malaria, better access to clean water, treatments for diarrheal diseases, and vitamin A distribution.
Third, donors must increase their financial commitments since international support is far below the level required to achieve the target.
With this comprehensive approach, the death of another 35 million children – more than the entire population of Canada – could be prevented.
– Nayomi Chibana
Sources: UNICEF, UN InterAgency Group For Child Mortality, TIME