Child mortality rates plunge by more than half

Child mortality rates have plummeted to less than half of what they were in 1990.

But it is not enough to meet the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of a two-thirds reduction over the past 15 years, according to a new report released today by a number of United Nations agencies.

“We have to acknowledge tremendous global progress, especially since 2000 when many countries have tripled the rate of reduction of under-five mortality,” said the Deputy Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Geeta Rao Gupta.

“But the far too large number of children still dying from preventable causes before their fifth birthday – and indeed within their first month of life – should impel us to redouble our efforts to do what we know needs to be done. We cannot continue to fail them.”

According to Levels and Trends in Child Mortality Report 2015, released by UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Bank Group, and the Population Division of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), under-five deaths have dropped from 12.7 million per year in 1990 to 5.9 million in 2015.

This is the first year the figure has gone below the 6 million mark. However, new estimates in the report indicate that although global progress has been substantial, 16,000 children under five still die every day.

The report notes that the biggest challenge remains in the period at or around birth. A massive 45 per cent of under-five deaths occur in the neonatal period – the first 28 days of life. Prematurity, pneumonia, complications during labour and delivery, diarrhoea, sepsis, and malaria are leading causes of deaths of children under five years old. Nearly half of all under-five deaths are reportedly associated with undernutrition.

Yet, the UN study highlights how most child deaths are easily preventable by proven and readily available interventions. It says the rate of reduction of child mortality can speed up considerably by concentrating on regions with the highest levels – sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia – and ensuring a targeted focus on newborns.

“We know how to prevent unnecessary newborn mortality. Quality care around the time of childbirth including simple affordable steps like ensuring early skin-to-skin contact, exclusive breastfeeding and extra care for small and sick babies can save thousands of lives every year,” noted Dr. Flavia Bustreo, Assistant Director General at WHO.

She added that the Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health to be launched at the UN General Assembly this month, will be a “major catalyst for giving all newborns the best chance at a healthy start in life.”

The report also shows that a child’s chance of survival is still vastly different based on where he or she is born. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest under-five mortality rate in the world with 1 child in 12 dying before his or her fifth birthday – more than 12 times higher than the 1 in 147 average in high-income countries.

In the past 15 years, the region has overall accelerated its annual rate of reduction of under-five mortality to about two and a half times what it was from 1990 to 2000. Despite low incomes, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Niger, Rwanda, Uganda, and Tanzania have reportedly all met the MDG target.

“This new report confirms a key finding of the 2015 Revision of the World Population Prospects on the remarkable decline in child mortality globally during the 15-year MDG era,” said UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs Wu Hongbo.

“Rapid improvements since 2000 have saved the lives of millions of children. However, this progress will need to continue and even accelerate further, especially in high-mortality countries of sub-Saharan Africa, if we are to reach the proposed child survival target of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Tim Evans, Senior Director of Health, Nutrition and Population at the World Bank Group, stressed the need to do more before 2030 to ensure that all women and children have access to the care they need.

The World Bank Group is also underlining that the recently launched Global Financing Facility in Support of Every Woman Every Child will help countries deliver essential health services and accelerate reductions in child mortality thanks to focus on smarter, scaled and sustainable financing.