Despite a moderate decline in under-five mortality rates in many South Asian countries, approximately one child in ten still dies before their tenth birthday from easily preventable and treatable illnesses such as diarrhoea, pneumonia, measles and malaria. Malnutrition, which continues to be a major underlying cause, contributes to almost half of child deaths in South Asia. Others are caused by conflict and HIV/AIDS with an estimated 140,000 children from the age of 0-14 estimates to be living with disease in the region according to 2006 estimates. Most child deaths occur in underserved rural, as opposed to urban areas.
Many of these lives could be saved through existing low-cost, low-technology and high impact interventions such as vaccines, antibiotics, micronutrient supplementation, insecticide-treated bednets, improved breastfeeding practices and the adoption of safe hygiene practices which can prevent unnecessary maternal and child deaths and reduce undernutrition.
Although access to fresh water and basic sanitation, the foundations of healthy living and prerequisites for reducing child mortality, have improved dramatically in South Asia since 1990, 234 million people still have no access to safe drinking water and nearly a billion people lack basic sanitation.
Millions of South Asian children have not been registered at birth, and lacking proof of identity, age and existence, are routinely shut out of schools and hospitals. If mothers do not attend prenatal or antenatal clinics, their children’s growth goes unmonitored and basic needs remain unmet. Without birth registration governments and other organisations lack accurate figures on which to plan for public services.
By packaging services and implementing at scale, high impact and evidence-based maternal, newborn and child survival interventions, millions of lives can be saved. By ensuring that all children have access to basic education and by focusing on children marginalized by poverty, HIV/AIDS, conflict and discrimination, the cycle of poverty that keeps children on the brink of survival, can be broken.