Global and national efforts to end preventable deaths of children under-five years of age saved some 90 million lives in the past two decades, but at the current rate, a universal promise to reduce child mortality by two-thirds by 2015 will not be reached, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported today.
“Yes, we should celebrate the progress,” said Anthony Lake, UNICEF Executive Director. “But how can we celebrate when there is so much more to do before we reach the goal? And we can speed up the progress – we know how, but we need to act with a renewed sense of urgency.”
The number of deaths fell to 6.6 million in 2012 from 12.6 million in 1990, according the report released today, 2013 Progress Report on Committing to Child Survival: A Promise Renewed.
The reductions are due to more effective and affordable treatments, improvements in mothers’ nutrition and education, innovations in bringing critical services to poor and excluded people and sustained political commitment.
Unless progress is sped up, however, it will take until 2028 before the world meets the target set by the Millennium Development Goal (MDGs) to reduce overall child mortality by two-thirds by 2015.
During that time, as many as 35 million more children would have died, UNICEF cautioned.
Some of the world’s poorest countries have made the strongest gains in child survival since 1990.
A few high-mortality, low-income countries - Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Liberia, Malawi, Nepal, Timor Leste and Tanzania - have already reduced their under-five mortality rates by two-thirds or more since 1990, according to the figures in the report.
East Asia and Asia Pacific leads the global trend in reductions in child mortality, UNICEF reported. Since 1990, the region reduced its under-five mortality by over 60 per cent.
In contrast, West and Central Africa has seen a drop of just 39 per cent in its under-five mortality, the lowest among all the regions with almost one in every eight children dying before the age of five.
The UN agency reported that there are a number of reasons to account for the challenges in the region – including low social benefits, lack of sanitation facilities, and poor education rates.
The Governments of Ethiopia, India and the United States, together with the UN agency, launched last year ‘Committing to Child Survival: A Promise Renewed’, a global effort to accelerate efforts to stop young children from dying from preventable causes. Some 176 governments have signed on, including those making some of the greatest strides in under-five mortality.
The effort seeks to advance Every Woman Every Child, a strategy launched by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to mobilize and intensify global action to improve the health of women and children through action and advocacy to accelerate reductions in preventable maternal, newborn and child deaths.
“When sound strategies, adequate resources and strong political will are harnessed in support of child and maternal survival, dramatic reductions in child mortality aren’t just feasible, they are morally imperative,” said Mr. Lake.
The report highlighted that pneumonia, diarrhoea, and malaria remain the leading causes of child deaths globally, claiming the lives of around 6,000 children under five each day. Undernutrition contributes to almost half of all under-five deaths.
The first month of life is the most precarious for a young child, according to the report. In 2012, close to three million babies died during the first month of life, mostly from easily preventable causes.