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Global child mortality rates continue to drop, UNICEF reports

Global child mortality rates continue to drop, UNICEF reports

Children in South Africa (file photo)
The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) today called for accelerated efforts to save young peoples' lives as new figures indicate that the rate of deaths of children aged under five continues its long-term decline around the world.

The mortality rate has fallen by some 27 per cent since 1990, according to statistics released by UNICEF. Last year there were 68 deaths for every 1,000 live births, compared with 93 deaths nearly two decades earlier.

Bangladesh, Bolivia, Laos and Nepal have made particularly impressive advances, more than halving their mortality rates since 1990. This also ensures they are on track to meet the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) that calls for a two-thirds reduction in child deaths by 2015.

But UNICEF noted in a press release that the improvements have been felt worldwide. In industrialized countries, there is now an average of just six deaths for every 1,000 births. In Africa, the continent with the worst rates, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Malawi, Mozambique and Niger have slashed their death rates.

UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman said the global mortality rate for young children has fallen by more than 60 per cent since 1960.

“Recent data also indicate encouraging improvements in many of the basic health interventions, such as early and exclusive breastfeeding, measles immunization, Vitamin A supplementation, the use of insecticide-treated nets to prevent malaria, and prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS,” she said.

“These interventions are expected to result in further declines in child mortality over the coming years.”

But Ms. Veneman warned that despite this progress, much more needs to be done. In Sierra Leone, for example, 262 out of every 1,000 children die before they reach their fifth birthday.

Under-nutrition was a cause of more than one-third of the estimated 9.2 million children under the age of five who died last year. As many as 148 million children in poor countries remain undernourished, despite efforts to reduce this number since 1990.

Ms. Veneman stressed the need to speed up programmes that improve the nutritional needs of children, infants and women.