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Global child deaths down by almost half since 1990

   NEW YORK, 13 September 2013 – In 2012, approximately 6.6 million children worldwide – 18,000 children per day – died before reaching their fifth birthday, according to a new report released today by UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Bank Group and the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs/Population Division. This is roughly half the number of under-fives who died in 1990, when more than 12 million children died. 

    "This trend is a positive one. Millions of lives have been saved," said Anthony Lake, UNICEF Executive Director.  "And we can do still better. Most of these deaths can be prevented, using simple steps that many countries have already put in place – what we need is a greater sense of urgency."

   The leading causes of death among children aged less than five years include pneumonia, prematurity, birth asphyxia, diarrhoea and malaria.  Globally, about 45 per cent of under-five deaths are linked to under nutrition.

   About half of under-five deaths occur in only five countries: China, Democratic Republic of the Congo, India, Nigeria, and Pakistan.  India (22 per cent) and Nigeria (13 per cent) together account for more than one-third of all deaths of children under the age of five.

   Newborn children are at particularly high risk

  "Care for mother and baby in the first 24 hours of any child's life is critical for the health and wellbeing of both," says Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General at WHO.  "Up to half of all newborn deaths occur within the first day."
The lives of most of these babies could be saved if they had access to some basic health-care services.  These include skilled care during and after childbirth; inexpensive medicines such as antibiotics; and practices such as skin to skin contact between mother and newborn babies and exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life.

  Progress, challenges

   While the global average annual rate of reduction in under-five mortality accelerated from 1.2 per cent a year for the period 1990-1995 to 3.9 per cent for 2005-2012, it remains insufficient to reach Millennium Development Goal 4 which aims to reduce the under-five mortality rate by two-thirds between 1990 and 2015.

  "Continued investments by countries to strengthen health systems are essential to ensure that all mothers and children can get the affordable, quality care they need to live healthy, productive lives," said Keith Hansen, Acting Vice President of Human Development at the World Bank Group.

   Global and national action to improve child health

   Both globally and in countries, a series of initiatives are in place aimed at improving access to maternal and child health care, inspired by the United Nations Secretary-General's widely endorsed Global Strategy for Women's and Children's Health which aims to save 16 million lives by 2015 through a "continuum of care" approach.

   As part of this strategy, focus on specific areas is given through:

  • A Global Vaccine Action Plan that is working towards universal access to immunization by 2020. Immunization is one of most effective country-driven and globally-supported actions, as it currently averts an estimated two to three million deaths every year in all age groups from diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), and measles. In 2012, an estimated 83 per cent (111 million) of infants worldwide were vaccinated with three doses of diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis (DTP3) vaccine.
  • Some 176 countries have signed on to A Promise Renewed – the call to action spearheaded by the Governments of Ethiopia, India and the United States, together with UNICEF in a global effort to stop children from dying of causes that are easily prevented.  
  • The United Nations Commission on Life-Saving Commodities for Women and Children is helping countries improve access to priority medicines such as basic antibiotics and oral rehydration salts.
  • Earlier this year, WHO and UNICEF joined other partners in establishing a new Global Action Plan for Pneumonia and Diarrhoea which aims to end preventable child deaths from these two major killers of under-fives by 2025. 
  • Similarly, partners are working on Every Newborn: a global action plan to end preventable deaths. The aim is to launch this global newborn action plan in May 2014 and provide strategic directions to prevent and manage the most common causes of newborn mortality, which account for around 44 per cent of all under-five mortality.   
  • UNICEF, WHO and the World Bank Group all support the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) global movement in its efforts to collaborate with countries to implement programmes to address poor nutrition at scale with a core focus on empowering women.

  Note to editors:

  Global estimates of child mortality are challenging to produce because many countries lack complete systems to track vital records.  The estimates released today are based on statistical models and data from a variety of sources, including household surveys and censuses.

  All the numbers cited here fall within a statistical confidence range. For example, the estimated global number of 6.6 million deaths in 2012 falls within the statistical confidence ranges from 6.3 to 7.0.

  About UNICEF

  UNICEF works in more than 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: Follow us on Twitter and Facebook

  For further information, please contact:

  Kate Donovan, UNICEF Media, Tel +1 212 326 7452,
  Marixie Mercado, UNICEF Media in Geneva, Tel +41 22 909 5716; Mobile +41 79 756 7703,
  Iman Morooka, UNICEF Strategic Communications, Tel +1 212 326 7211,
  Fadéla Chaib, WHO, Tel +41 22 791 3228, Mobile: +41 79 475 5556,
  Melanie Mayhew, World Bank Group, Tel +1 202-459-7115,


  Irina Lipcanu, Press officer, Tel + 373 22 269 235;

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Moldova succeeded in halving child mortality

   Moldova is among the few countries in the world which reached its Millennium Development Goal of reducing child mortality, registering a mortality rate in children under 5 of 12.1 per 1,000 live births in 2012 (compared to 28.3 in 1994). In just two decades the country managed to cut more than twice the child mortality rate. These results were due to various measures taken by the health system:

  • Improving primary health care and assistance at birth;
  • Improving the care of mothers and newborns;
  • Maintaining relatively high rates of vaccination;
  • Promotion of breastfeeding, including exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life;
  • Informing mothers and families about health care practices.

   In 2012 Moldova, as well as other 175 countries of the world, signed up to UNICEF's global initiative "Child Survival Call to Action: A Promise Renewed". By this, the Government reiterated its commitment to keep up the efforts in saving the lives of youngest children, by improving the access of most vulnerable to healthcare and other basic services and by reducing geographic and social disparities.







Committing to Child Survival: A Promise Renewed

Progress Report 2013: executive summary


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