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Diverse countries are making rapid progress in child survival – UNICEF report

More than 100 countries pledge to prioritize child survival

© UNICEF/NYHQ2004-1273/Giacomo Pirozzi
A six-month-old infant receives an oral polio vaccination at a local health clinic in the Trobriand Islands in Milne Bay Province, Papua New Guinea

NEW YORK/Bangkok, 13 September 2012 – Countries across the world are making rapid progress in reducing child deaths, demonstrating that it is possible to radically reduce child mortality over the span of two decades, a UNICEF report says today.

The 2012 Progress Report on Committing to Child Survival: A Promise Renewed examines trends in child mortality estimates since 1990, and shows that major reductions have been made in under-five mortality rates in all regions and diverse countries. This has translated into a sharp drop in the estimated number of under-five deaths worldwide. Data released today by UNICEF and the UN Inter-agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation show that the number of children under the age of five dying globally fell from nearly 12 million in 1990 to an estimated 6.9 million in 2011.

The report underscores that neither a country’s regional affiliation nor economic status need be a barrier to reducing child deaths. Low-income countries such as Bangladesh, Liberia and Rwanda, middle-income countries such as Brazil, Mongolia and Turkey, and high-income countries such as Oman and Portugal, have all made dramatic gains, lowering their under-five mortality rates by more than two-thirds between 1990 and 2011.

“The global decline in under-five mortality is a significant success that is a testament to the work and dedication of many, including governments, donors, agencies and families,” said Anthony Lake, UNICEF Executive Director. “But there is also unfinished business: Millions of children under five are still dying each year from largely preventable causes for which there are proven, affordable interventions.”

“These lives could be saved with vaccines, adequate nutrition and basic medical and maternal care. The world has the technology and know-how to do so. The challenge is to make these available to every child.”

In East Asia and the Pacific, an estimated 145,000 children under age 5 died because as a result of pneumonia and diarrhoea in 2010. These two preventable causes lead to 39 per cent of all under-five deaths in the region. The data also shows that these children are usually from the poorest families and communities. Pneumonia and diarrhoea are described as diseases of poverty because they are closely associated with poor home environments, malnutrition, lack of access to essential services and poor family practices.

“East Asia and the Pacific have made remarkable gains in reducing child mortality,” said Basil Rodriques, UNICEF’s Regional Advisor on Child Survival and Development. “These achievements show that, with the right momentum and existing knowledge, many more lives can be saved. If we all work together to take full advantage of tried and tested practices and new solutions, and if we focus on the most disadvantaged children, more children will live to see their fifth birthday, and grow up to contribute to their communities and their countries. “

Many child deaths from pneumonia and diarrhoea can be prevented, by making behaviours and environments safer.  Exclusive breastfeeding up to six months, hand washing with soap before eating and after defecation, recognition of early symptoms and seeking timely care, access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation, and adequate nutrition prevent life threatening illnesses and even deaths from pneumonia and diarrhoea.

Vaccines – some old and others new – can prevent children from falling sick. These vaccines prevent infections that often lead to pneumonia or diarrhoea as a complication (for example, pertussis vaccine, in the case of pneumonia, and measles vaccine for both pneumonia and diarrhoea). Even when a child becomes ill, death can often be avoided through the use of cost-effective, low-cost and life-saving treatment, such as antibiotics for bacterial pneumonia and oral rehydration salts for diarrhoea. 

Greater efforts are particularly required in populous countries with high mortality. In addition to medical and nutritional factors, improvements in other areas – notably education, access to clean water and adequate sanitation, adequate food, child protection and women’s empowerment – will also improve prospects for child survival and development.

UNICEF works in 190 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments. For more information about UNICEF and its work visit:

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For more information, please contact:

Janine Kandel, UNICEF East Asia & Pacific, + 66 (0) 90 197 4659,

Christopher de Bono, UNICEF East Asia & Pacific, +66 (0)84 427 7431,




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