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Young child survival and development

In a child survival milestone, under-five deaths fall below 10 million per year

© UNICEF/HQ05-1407/Nesbitt
Pre-school children smile at the UNICEF-supported Consol Homes Orphan Care programme in Malawi, which saw a 29 per cent fall in under-five mortality between 2000 and 2004.

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.

© UNICEF/HQ07-1261/Pietrasik
A mother and her 18-month-old son lie under a mosquito net provided by C-NES, a UNICEF partner in the state of Assam, India.

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 immunization, 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.

© UNICEF/HQ06-2411/Markisz
An indigenous Wayuu boy cries as he is vaccinated against measles during a UNICEF-assisted immunization drive in the north-western state of Zulia, Venezuela.

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:

  • Every region has made progress in reducing the under-five mortality rate. The most rapid declines between 1990 and 2006 were found in Latin America and the Caribbean, Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States, and East Asia and the Pacific.
  • In the past, most child deaths occurred in Asia. Today, around 50 per cent of child deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa. If current trends continue, in 2015 sub-Saharan Africa will account for almost 60 per cent of all under-five deaths.
  • Falling under-five mortality in Asia has helped to fuel the global decline. China’s under-five mortality rate has fallen from 45 deaths for every 1,000 live births in 1990 to 24 per 1,000 in 2006, a reduction of 47 per cent. India’s rate has fallen from 115 to 76 per 1,000 in the same period, a reduction of 34 per cent.

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.




13 September 2007:
UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman talks about the new figures showing a landmark reduction in child mortality worldwide.
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