Nairobi — The United Nations has just published its annual statistics on child mortality around the world. The data reveals that the number of children dying every year has halved in a generation – down from 12 million in 1990 to 6.6 million in 2012.
Patrick Watt, Global Campaigns and Advocacy Director for Save the Children International, said "Dramatic global progress is being made in saving children's lives and we are now at an historic point where ending preventable child deaths lies within our grasp. This demonstrates that widespread efforts to improve access to life-saving healthcare for some of the world's most vulnerable children are working. But these efforts need to be stepped up in order to prevent millions more children from dying."
The new data reveals that this historic opportunity is at risk because two main challenges remain: the poorest children are being excluded and too many children are still not surviving the first month of life. Governments need to take urgent action to deliver health care and nutrition to every child if we are going to see sustainable progress in coming years, and give special attention to newborns and the most excluded. Every child has the right to survive, no matter where they are born. Donor countries and international organisations should also make sure no child dies for lack of resources.
The new data from UNICEF shows that over the past 20 years, around 90 million children were able to survive thanks to proven solutions and global and national efforts. These are lives that would have been lost had mortality remained at 1990 levels.
Encouragingly, the world is currently reducing under-five deaths faster than at any other time during the past two decades. "The global annual rate of reduction in under-5 mortality has steadily accelerated from 1.7 per cent in 1990–2000 to 3.8 per cent in 2000–2012."
Under-5 mortality has been almost halved, but despite this remarkable progress, 6.6 million children still died in 2012 mainly from preventable causes. That's a loss of around 18,000 children every day – 18,000 children who will never celebrate their fifth birthdays, never finish school, and never fulfil their dreams or realize their potential in the world.
Newborn deaths now accounts for 44 per cent of all under-five deaths in 2012 up from 37% in 1990 despite the knowledge of cost-effective solutions. Every year, one million babies die on the day they are born. Improving care during labour, birth and first hours of life will not only save babies, it will also save the lives of women and prevent stillbirths.
Another major challenge is that global progress remains uneven, both in terms of disparities within countries and between countries.
Seven high-mortality, low-income countries (Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Liberia, Malawi, Nepal, Timor Leste and United Republic of Tanzania) have already reduced their under-five mortality rates by two-thirds or more since 1990, reaching MDG 4 before the 2015 deadline. Impressive results have also been seen in a number of other low-income countries: Cambodia, Eritrea, Guinea, Niger, Madagascar, Mozambique, and Uganda.
According to the UNICEF data, Sub-Saharan Africa and Middle East and North Africa are the only regions that have experienced a consistent acceleration in the pace of reducing under-five deaths since 1990. Since 2005, sub-Saharan Africa has been reducing its rate of child mortality more than five times faster than during 1990-1995.
Sub-Saharan Africa has registered a 45 per cent decline in the under-five mortality rate from 1990 to 2012. The region faces a unique and urgent challenge in accelerating progress. By mid-century it will be the region with the single biggest population of under-fives, accounting for 37 per cent of the global total and close to 40 per cent of all live births. And it is the region with least progress on under-five mortality to date.
Within sub-Saharan Africa, there is beginning to be a divergence in child survival trends between Eastern and Southern Africa, and West and Central Africa.
Eastern and Southern Africa has managed to reduce its under-five mortality rate by 53 per cent since 1990 and in the past seven years has been among the best performing regions in the world, reducing under-five mortality at an annual rate of 5.3 per cent in 2005-2012. But it still has high rates of mortality, with one in every 13 children dying before the age of five.
In contrast, West and Central Africa has seen a drop of just 39 per cent in its under-five mortality rate since 1990, the least progress among all regions. Moreover, its annual rate of reduction, while accelerating, is still the slowest in the world. The region also has the highest rate of mortality, with almost one in every eight children dying before the age of five.