Cape Town — Although deaths among children are dropping worldwide, 38 of the 40 countries with the highest child mortality rates in the world are in Africa.
In Sierra Leone, Angola and Niger, an average of more than one in every four children die before the age of five. In Liberia, Mali, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burkina Faso, the figure is more than one in every five children.
And even Africa's biggest and most developed countries have high child mortality rates: in Nigeria 191 of every 1,000 children die by the age of five, in Botswana it is 124 and in Kenya it is 121.
These statistics were revealed on Tuesday in the United Nations Children's Fund report, The State of the World's Children 2008, which was launched in Monrovia, Liberia by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
In a contribution to the report, Sirleaf said there needed to be "renewed momentum around the issue of child survival... We want to ensure that our children move beyond survival and into a phase of development that enables them to thrive and transform into productive citizens."
In her foreword to the report, Unicef's executive director, Ann M. Veneman, noted the good news: for the first time, child mortality had dropped below 10 million a year – to 9.7 million in 2006; this represented a 60 percent decrease since 1960; and Ethiopia has achieved a reduction of nearly 40 percent since 1990.
"However," she wrote, "there is no room for complacency... The world is not yet on track to achieve the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target of a two-thirds reduction in the rate of child mortality by 2015."
And of the 62 countries making "no progress or insufficient progress" towards the MDG on child survival, nearly 75 percent are in Africa, she said. In some southern African countries, HIV-Aids had reversed previously recorded declines in child mortality.
Veneman called for widespread basic health interventions, including:
- Early and exclusive breastfeeding,
- Vitamin A supplementation, and
- Insecticide-treated mosquito nets to prevent malaria
She added, "More needs to be done to increase access to treatment and means of prevention, to address the devastating impact of pneumonia, diarrhoea, malaria, severe acute malnutrition and HIV."