In a child survival milestone, under-five deaths fall below 10 million per year
By Amy Bennett
NEW YORK, USA, 13 September 2007 – The world has reached an important milestone on child survival. For the first time in modern history, the number of children dying before the age of five has fallen below 10 million per year.
New survey figures reported by UNICEF today show solid progress, with worldwide child deaths at a record low of 9.7 million per year – down from almost 13 million in 1990.
This achievement will add momentum to the push toward the Millennium Development Goals adopted by world leaders in 2000. Reaching MDG 4 – a two-thirds reduction in the 1990 under-five mortality rate by 2015 – would avert an additional 5.4 million child deaths annually.
Basic health interventions
UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman called the new figures “historic” but also stressed the work that remains to be done. “The loss of 9.7 million young lives each year is unacceptable,” she said. “Most of these deaths are preventable and, as recent progress shows, the solutions are tried and tested.”
In fact, much of the progress reflected in the new child mortality figures is the result of widespread adoption of basic health interventions such as early and exclusive breastfeeding, measles immunisation, vitamin A supplementation to boost children’s immune systems, and the use of insecticide-treated bednets to prevent malaria.
Proper treatment of pneumonia, diarrhoeal diseases and severe malnutrition, and treatment of paediatric HIV/AIDS, are also important for child survival – as are hygiene promotion and access to safe drinking water and sanitation.
Key findings on under-five mortality
The figures reported today result from an analysis of national data sources developed by UNICEF and its partners, including Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys and Demographic Household Surveys. In addition to the landmark reduction in under-five deaths worldwide, the surveys reveal the following key findings:
Progress and challenges in Africa
Despite the overall trend in sub-Saharan Africa, there has been significant progress in some countries there. Malawi, for example, saw a fall in under-five mortality of 29 per cent between 2000 and 2004, and there were reductions of more than 20 per cent in Ethiopia, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Rwanda and Tanzania.
The highest rates of child mortality are still found in West and Central African nations and in southern Africa, where hard-won gains in child survival have been undermined by the spread of HIV and AIDS.
With continued support for child health initiatives, increased funding and expanded partnerships, further global and regional progress on child survival is possible. Indeed, it is critical; the lives of the world’s youngest and most vulnerable children are at stake.
Tim Ledwith contributed to this story.