A new United Nations report released on Friday shows that in 2012, approximately 6.6 million children worldwide – 18 000 children per day – died before reaching their fifth birthday.
According to the report prepared by United Nations International Children’s Fund (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.
It said the leading causes of death among children aged less than five years include pneumonia, prematurity, birth asphyxia, diarrhoea and malaria, adding that globally, about 45 per cent of under-five deaths were linked to under-nutrition.
It said about half of under-five deaths occured in only five countries: China, Democratic Republic of the Congo, India, Nigeria, and Pakistan, with 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.
“Care for mother and baby in the first 24 hours of any child’s life is critical for the health and well being of both,” said Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General at WHO. “Up to half of all newborn deaths occur within the first day.”
The report said the lives of most of these babies could be saved if they had access to some basic health-care services.
It said while the global average annual rate of reduction in under-five mortality accelerated from 1.2 per cent a year for 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.
It said sub-Saharan Africa, in particular, faces significant challenges as the region with the highest child mortality rates in the world
“With a rate of 98 deaths per 1000 live births, a child born in sub-Saharan Africa faces more than 16 times the risk of dying before his or her fifth birthday than a child born in a high-income country.
“However, sub-Saharan Africa has shown remarkable acceleration in its progress, with the annual rate of reduction in deaths increasing from 0.8 per cent in 1990 -1995 to 4.1 per cent in 2005-2012,” it said.
It attributed this to sound government policies, prioritized investments and actions to address the key causes of child mortality and reach even the most difficult to reach populations.
“Global partnerships to further accelerate the reduction of under-five mortality globally and in sub-Saharan Africa are essential,” said Wu Hongbo, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs at the United Nations.
“In this regard, it is critical that national governments and development partners redouble efforts through to the end of 2015 and beyond.” GNA