World child mortality rates falling, but more lives could be saved: UNICEF

TORONTO – A new report from UNICEF suggests global efforts to end preventable deaths of children under five years of age are seeing results, but millions of children remain at risk.

Data released by the UN agency show that since 1990, child mortality rates around the world have been cut in half, dropping from 12.6 million deaths per year in 1990 to 6.6 million in 2012.

UNICEF Canada president and CEO David Morley says the success in reducing preventable child deaths means “90 million children lived to see their fifth birthdays who otherwise would have died.”

The report shows sharp reductions in preventable child deaths across all regions of the world, and at all levels of national income, including low-income countries.

In fact, says UNICEF, some of the world’s poorest countries have made the strongest gains in child survival since 1990. Seven high-mortality, low income countries — Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Liberia, Malawi, Nepal, Timor Leste and Tanzania — have reduced their under-five mortality rates by two-thirds or more since 1990.

But the agency says a goal to cut the under-five mortality rate by two-thirds by 2015 is unlikely to be reached until 2028 and an additional 35 million children will die who otherwise could have been saved.

UNICEF says pneumonia, diarrhea and malaria are to blame for almost half of the children who die in the first month of life. It says greater effort is needed to ensure children have access to medicines, vaccines, insecticide-treated bed nets, oral rehydration salts and zinc no matter where they live.

The report says children and mothers must be properly nourished and have access to safe water and sanitation. Mothers must have access to health care to support safe pregnancy, labour and delivery.

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.