Child deaths down 40% - UN


COUNTRIES ACROSS the world are making rapid progress on child survival rates, showing it is possible to bring down child mortality significantly in two decades, according to Unicef, the United Nations Children’s Fund.

In its latest report on child survival, the organisation hailed a sharp drop of about 40 per cent in the number of children under the age of five dying, with the estimated global toll falling from nearly 12 million in 1990 to 6.9 million in 2011.

There was progress across diverse nations with varied wealth, Unicef said, providing evidence that neither a country’s regional nor economic status was necessarily a barrier to being able to reduce child death rates.

Poor countries such as Bangladesh, Liberia and Rwanda, middle-income countries such as Brazil, Mongolia and Turkey, and high-income countries such as Oman and Portugal all made what Unicef described as dramatic gains, lowering their death rates of under-fives by more than two-thirds between 1990 and 2011.

Anthony Lake, Unicef’s executive director, said the decline was a “significant success” and testament to the work of governments, donors, agencies and families. “But there is also unfinished business. Millions of children under five are still dying each year from largely preventable causes for which there are proven, affordable interventions.”

The report found that child deaths are increasingly concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, which together accounted for more than 80 per cent of all under-five deaths in 2011. On average, one in nine children in sub-Saharan Africa die before reaching age five, it said.

“These lives could be saved with vaccines, adequate nutrition and basic medical and maternal care,” said Mr Lake. “The world has the technology and know-how to do so. The challenge is to make these available to every child.”

More than half the pneumonia and diarrhoea deaths – which together account for almost 30 per cent of under-five deaths worldwide – occur in just four countries: the Democratic Republic of Congo, India, Nigeria and Pakistan. Vaccines to prevent pneumococcal disease and rotavirus, leading causes of pneumonia and diarrhoea, are widely available in wealthy countries but are still only gradually being rolled out in poorer nations.

Barbara Frost, chief executive of British-based charity WaterAid, said Unicef’s report underlined the need for urgent focus on improving sanitation and access to clean water in developing countries. The report showed that 11 per cent of child deaths – equating to 759,000 a year or 2,079 a day – are due to diarrhoeal diseases, of which 88 per cent can be attributed to a lack of clean water, safe sanitation and hygiene.

Latest data for 2010 shows that about one in three of the world’s population still lack access to safe sanitation and one in 10 do not have clean drinking water.

– (Reuters)