‘Striking Improvements’ Toward MDG Targets, Progress Is Unequal, WHO Report Says

The WHO’s annual health statistics report, released Monday, found that global efforts aimed at achieving Millennium Development Goal (MDG) targets have led to “striking improvements” among goals related to child health, maternal mortality, malaria and HIV/AIDS, Reuters reports. But the “results mask inequalities between countries, and some nations’ progress had been slowed by conflict, poor governance or humanitarian and economic crises,” the news service writes (Kelland, 5/10).

The report found that the percentage of underweight children worldwide declined from an estimated 25 percent in 1990 to 16 percent in 2010, according to a WHO press release. Between 2001 and 2008, HIV infections fell by 16 percent (5/10). Additionally, the “report found that the percentage of the world’s population with access to safe drinking water had increased from 77 percent to 87 percent, a rate of improvement it said would hit the MDG target if it keeps up,” but in many lower-income countries “the annual rate of increase needs to double in order to reach the target and a gap persists between urban and rural areas,” Reuters writes.

Compared with other WHO regions, Africa had the least progress on water and sanitation, Reuters reports. There, the percentage of the population using toilets or latrines rose from 30 percent in 1990 to 34 percent in 2008 (5/10).

The report also found that approximately 40 percent of deaths in children under five “are estimated to occur in the first month of life, most of which occur in the first week,” the WHO release notes, adding that “[f]or the first time, this report provides the major causes of these deaths among newborns.”

Ties Boerma, director of the WHO’s Department of Health Statistics and Informatics, highlighted achievements in Liberia, Mozambique, Sierra Leone and Rwanda, which have all “made substantial progress in reducing child mortality,” he said. “Few developing countries are on track to reach the MDG target for maternal mortality. However, there is evidence of some progress in countries such as China and Egypt,” according to Boerma, who added that “measurement is a challenge and investments are needed in building better country systems to accurately identify and record maternal deaths.” He continued, “The challenge is also to assist countries in sub-Saharan Africa and parts of South-East Asia to get access to interventions such as insecticide-treated bed nets to prevent malaria, or prevent malnutrition. Undernutrition is the underlying cause of a third of child deaths” (5/10).

According to a second Reuters article, “the report also says that non-communicable diseases and injuries caused an estimated 33 million deaths in developing countries in 2004 and will account for a growing proportion of total deaths in the future.”

“All of the countries are really working hard with this 2015 [MDGs] target date in mind,” said Carla Abou-Zahr, the WHO’s coordinator for monitoring and analysis. “And what we see and hear constantly from our partners is that political commitment is absolutely essential if progress is going to be achieved – sometimes even more than resources.” She added, “Gradually, chronic diseases are spreading to developing countries. They are no longer just rich country problems” (Kelland, 5/10). 

A WHO fact sheet highlights findings from the report (May 2010).

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