Better care for babies during the first month after they are born is key to reducing child mortality rates in developing countries, the United Nations health agency said today, in an update on measures that are essential for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
According to the agency’s World Health Statistics 2010, major causes of infant deaths include malnutrition and diseases such as malaria, an illness that can be prevented by ensuring that newborns sleep under insecticide-treated mosquito nets.
The report – compiled annually and based on more than 100 health indicators reported by WHO’s 193 Member States – also showed that deaths among children under the age of five have dropped by 30 per cent from 12.5 million in 1990 to 8.8 million in 2008.
Five years ahead of the 2015 deadline for the achievement of MDGs – eight targets agreed upon by world leaders – WHO noted that there were some striking improvements in some health-related goals.
The percentage of underweight children is estimated to have declined from 25 per cent in 1990 to 16 per cent in 2010, HIV/AIDS infections dropped 16 per cent between 2001 and 2008, and the percentage of the world’s population with access to safe water increased from 77 per cent to 87 per cent, enough to reach the MDG target.
The global results, however, mask reveal inequalities between countries and regions. Some countries have been held back by conflict, poor governance, or humanitarian and economic crises, the report noted.
“But several low-income countries have made substantial progress in reducing child mortality, including Liberia, Sierra Leone, Mozambique and Rwanda,” said Ties Boerma, Director of WHO’s Department of Health Statistics and Informatics.
Countries were, however, still lagging behind on measures that would reduce maternal mortality, the update showed.
“Few developing countries are on track to reach the MDG target for maternal mortality,” but there is evidence of progress in nations such as Egypt and China, said Dr. Boerma.
Measurement remains an obstacle, and he called for improved identification and recording of maternal deaths.
“The challenge is also to assist countries in sub-Saharan Africa and parts of South-East Asia to get access to interventions such as insecticide-treated bed nets to prevent malaria, or prevent malnutrition,” Dr. Boerma noted.
According to the report, nine countries in Africa and 29 outside Africa were on course to meet the MDG target for reducing malaria, but in 2008 an estimated 243 million cases of malaria still caused 863 000 deaths, mostly in children under five years old.
New HIV infections were reduced globally by 16 per cent between 2001 and 2008. In 2008, some 2.7 million people were newly infected with HIV, according to the report. More than four million people in low- and middle-income countries were receiving antiretroviral treatments by the end of 2008, but that left more than five million people untreated, it adds.
Existing cases of tuberculosis (TB) were declining as more people were being successfully treated. TB mortality among HIV-negative people had dropped from 1.7 million in 2001 to 1.4 million in 2008, the report noted.