UNICEF Data Shows Global Child Deaths Now Below 9M Annually, Progress Not Enough To Achieve MDG In Most Regions

The annual number of deaths among children younger than five worldwide “has fallen below nine million” compared with 12.5 million in 1990, according to new data from UNICEF, the New York Times reports. “That’s 10,000 less children dying per day,” Ann Veneman, UNICEF’s executive director, said. 

“The child mortality rate has declined by more than a quarter in the last two decades — to 65 per 1,000 live births last year from 90 in 1990 — in large part because of the widening distribution of relatively inexpensive technologies, like measles vaccines and anti-malaria mosquito nets,” the newspaper writes. “Wealthy nations, international agencies and philanthropists like Bill and Melinda Gates have committed billions of dollars to the effort. Schoolchildren and church groups have also pitched in, paying for mosquito nets and feeding programs,” according to the New York Times (Dugger, 9/9).

But “mortality is increasingly concentrated in poor countries,” Reuters reports. The data shows that half of all under-five deaths worldwide in 2008 occurred in sub-Saharan Africa, while South Asia accounted for 32 percent. Despite the overall reduction in deaths, the “child mortality rate would need to reach 4.4 percent average annual rate of reduction, way above the 1.8 percent achieved so far,” to be on track to achieve U.N. Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 4, which calls for a two-thirds reduction in the mortality rate among children under the age of five years between 1990 and 2015, Reuters reports.

Danzhen You of UNICEF wrote in a Lancet comment piece that the rate of child mortality is “still grossly insufficient” to reach the MDG goal by 2015. “It is alarming that among the 67 countries with high mortality rates (40 per 1,000 or more), only 10 are on track to meet MDG 4. These findings call for a more concerted effort to accelerate progress,” You and co-authors wrote (Kelland, 9/10).

The data shows that one of the “most vertiginous drops in child mortality” occurred in Malawi, according to the New York Times, which reports on the situation there (9/9). “Estimates show that under-five mortality in Malawi has fallen from 225 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1990,” to 100 in 2008, according a UNICEF release, which attributed the country’s success to how it “focused its limited resources on improvements in health and health systems” and effective interventions.

The release notes that pneumonia and diarrhea are the “two leading causes of under-five mortality” and that new tools, such as vaccines against the two diseases, could “provide additional momentum” (9/10).

A separate Reuters factbox highlights key findings from the UNICEF study (Kelland [2], 9/10).   

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