Global child deaths halved in 12 years, ‘remarkable progress’

Sub-Saharan Africa recorded remarkable progress in reducing child deaths as the global rate was reduced by almost half between 1990 and 2012, according to a UN report released here on Friday.

The report, released today by UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Bank Group and the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs/Population Division, showed that in 2012, approximately 6.6 million children worldwide – 18 000 children per day – died before reaching their fifth birthday.

This is roughly half the number of under-fives who died in 1990, when more than 12 million children died.

The sub-Saharan Africa, in particular, faces significant challenges as the region with the highest child mortality rates in the world.

With a rate of 98 deaths per 1000 live births, a child born in sub-Saharan Africa faces more than 16 times the risk of dying before his or her fifth birthday than a child born in a high-income country.

However, the report said sub-Saharan Africa has shown remarkable acceleration in its progress, with the annual rate of reduction in deaths increasing from 0.8% in 1990-1995 to 4.1% in 2005-2012.

‘This is the result of sound government policies, prioritised investments and actions to address the key causes of child mortality and reach even the most difficult to reach populations,’ said the report

It listed the leading causes of death among children aged less than five years to include pneumonia, prematurity, birth asphyxia, diarrhoea and malaria. Globally, about 45% of under-five deaths are linked to undernutrition.

About half of under-five deaths occur in only five countries: China, Democratic Republic of the Congo, India, Nigeria, and Pakistan. India (22%) and Nigeria (13%) together account for more than one-third of all deaths of children under the age of five.

Speaking on the falling rate of global child deaths, UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake said: “This trend is a positive one. Millions of lives have been saved. And we can do still better. Most of these deaths can be prevented, using simple steps that many countries have already put in place – what we need is a greater sense of urgency.”

Meanwhile, the report has said both globally and in countries, a series of initiatives are in place aimed at improving access to maternal and child health care, inspired by the United Nations Secretary-General’s widely endorsed Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health which aims to save 16 million lives by 2015 through a “continuum of care” approach.

It said focus on specific areas is given through:

– A Global Vaccine Action Plan that is working towards universal access to immunization by 2020.

– Some 176 countries have signed on to A Promise Renewed – the call to action spearheaded by the Governments of Ethiopia, India and the United States, together with UNICEF in a global effort to stop children from dying of causes that are easily prevented.

– The United Nations Commission on Life-Saving Commodities for Women and Children is helping countries improve access to priority medicines such as basic antibiotics and oral rehydration salts.

– Earlier this year, WHO and UNICEF joined other partners in establishing a new Global Action Plan for Pneumonia and Diarrhoea which aims to end preventable child deaths from these two major killers of under-fives by 2025. The plan promotes practices known to protect children from disease, such as creating a healthy home environment, and measures to ensure that every child has access to proven and appropriate preventive and treatment measures.

– Similarly, partners are working on Every Newborn: a global action plan to end preventable deaths. The aim is to launch this global newborn action plan in May 2014 and provide strategic directions to prevent and manage the most common causes of newborn mortality, which account for around 44% of all under-five mortality.

– UNICEF, WHO and the World Bank Group all support the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) global movement in its efforts to collaborate with countries to implement programmes to address poor nutrition at scale with a core focus on empowering women.

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