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Young child survival and development

Worldwide deaths of children under five decline, continuing positive trend

© UNICEF/NYHQ2007-2685/Pirozzi
Boys sit against the wall of a UNICEF-supported health centre in Niger’s Agadez region. Niger, Malawi, Mozambique and Ethiopia have all achieved absolute reductions in under-five mortality of more than 100 per 1,000 live births since 1990.

By Chris Niles

NEW YORK, 10 September 2009 – There are fewer children than ever dying before they reach their fifth birthday, according to new figures released today by UNICEF.

In 2008, an estimated 8.8 million children died before they reached their fifth birthday. That’s down from 12.5 million in 1990, according to data from a range of United Nations sources, including UNICEF, the World Bank and the World Health Organization.

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Two years ago, UNICEF announced that the absolute number of child deaths had fallen below 10 million for the first time. The most recent figures continue that trend.

Successful programmes

“Compared to 1990, 10,000 fewer children are dying every day,” said UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2006-2238/Pirozzi
Dora, 3, is immunized against measles at a mobile health clinic in Namurava village in Mozambique. Though it has made progress on child survival, the country still has one of the world’s highest rates of mortality for children under the age of five.

The figures show that the decline has been going on for two decades but that the rate has increased since the 1990s. The trend is attributed to successful programmes to immunize children and provide them with vitamin A supplements.

Another contributing effort is the wide distribution of insecticide-treated bed nets – a key factor in the fight against malaria.

‘A strong sense of urgency’

But while progress has been made in many countries, it is still insufficient to meet Millennium Development Goal 4, which calls for reducing under-five child deaths by two-thirds within the next six years.

Asia and Africa bear a disproportionate burden: Some 40 per cent of the world’s under-five deaths occur in India, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In South Africa, the child mortality rate has gone up, mostly because of the high number of mothers living with HIV.

“Unless mortality in these countries can be significantly reduced, the MDG targets will not be met,” said Veneman. “Achieving the Millennium Development Goal of a two-thirds reduction in under-five mortality by 2015 will require a strong sense of urgency with targeted resources for greater progress.”




10 September 2009: UNICEF correspondent Chris Niles reports on new figures showing a continued decline in the number of children who die before they reach the age of five.
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