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Young child survival and development

As child deaths continue to decline, UNICEF calls for increased efforts

© UNICEF/HQ07-1474/Khemka
Rama Kumari holds her 11-day-old infant at Ilam District Hospital in the remote, mountainous Eastern Region of Nepal, one of the countries making the most progress in reducing child mortality.

By Roshni Karwal

NEW YORK, USA, 12 September 2008 – Fewer children under the age of five are dying today than in past years, according to the latest data from UNICEF. Globally, the number of young children who died in 2007 dropped to 9.2 million, compared to 12.7 million deaths in 1990.

“Since 1960, the global under-five mortality rate has declined more than 60 per cent, and the new data shows that downward trend continues,” UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman said as she announced the new figures.

UNICEF’s Chief of Health, Dr. Peter Salama, attributes the decline in the rate of child mortality to improved maternal health care and disease prevention and control programmes.

“Botswana, for example, is providing a very important example of a country with a very high HIV prevalence that has turned the corner – and where under-five mortality is starting to go down,” said Dr. Salama. “We think that is really because there’s been enormous progress in coverage of anti-retroviral treatment for adults, and increasingly for children, and the coverage for prevention of mother-to-child transmission has been extremely high.”

© UNICEF/HQ08-0045/Turnley
A woman holds her infant at a UNICEF-supported community health post in the Northern Province of Sierra Leone, which has the worst under-five mortality rate in the world.

Significant progress
Countries such as the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bolivia have made the most progress in reducing child mortality; their under-five mortality rates have dropped by more than 50 per cent since 1990. These nations are well on track to achieving the Millennium Development Goal of reducing child mortality by two-thirds by 2015.

Significant progress is being made in Africa, as well. Eritrea’s under-five mortality rate has declined by 52 per cent over the last 17 years. During the same period, child mortality rates have declined by at least 40 per cent in Malawi, Mozambique, Niger and Ethiopia.

Despite this progress, Africa remains the continent with the highest rate of child mortality. Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for almost half of all global deaths of children under five, while the same region accounts for only 22 per cent of all births worldwide.

Sierra Leone is the country with the worst under-five mortality rate in the world: 262 out of every 1,000 children there die before their fifth birthday.

Causes of child mortality
The main causes of child mortality are pneumonia, malaria, diarrhoea, AIDS and vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles, according to the UNICEF data.

Undernutrition is also a major contributing cause in more than a third of all under-five child deaths. To ensure that these children have an opportunity to survive, UNICEF believes efforts to address the nutritional needs of women, infants and children must be accelerated.

“While progress has been made, much remains to be done,” said Veneman.

“As we are more successful in some ways, the task is a little harder,” added Dr. Salama. “As coverage of basic services gets higher, the most underserved populations are sometimes the most difficult to access. “

To ensure further declines in child mortality in the future, UNICEF is calling for a greater focus on newborn and maternal health, as well as strengthening basic health systems in areas where young children are at risk.




12 September 2008: UNICEF correspondent Roshni Karwal reports on newly released data showing a continued decline in child mortality.
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