19.09.2019 |

Child mortality rates drop but 15,000 children under 5 still die each day

Children in sub-Saharan Africa face a higher risk of death (Photo: CC0)

Although the global number of child deaths remains high, the world has made tremendous progress in reducing child mortality over the past few decades. The total number of under-five deaths dropped to 5.3 million in 2018, down from 12.5 million in 1990. This is the main message of a report published today by UN organisations led by UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO). According to the “Levels and trends in child mortality: Report 2019”, more women and their children are surviving today than ever before. Since 2000, child deaths have reduced by nearly half and maternal deaths by over one-third, mostly due to improved access to affordable, quality health services. However, in 2018 alone, 15,000 children died per day before reaching their fifth birthday. “It is especially unacceptable that these children and young adolescents died largely of preventable or treatable causes like infectious diseases and injuries when we have the means to prevent these deaths,” the authors write in the introduction to the report. The global under-five mortality rate fell to 39 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2018, down from 76 in 2000 – a 49% decline.

“Despite advances in fighting childhood illnesses, infectious diseases remain a leading cause of death for children under the age of 5, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia,” says the report. Pneumonia remains the leading cause of death globally among children under the age of 5, accounting for 15% of deaths. Diarrhoea (8%) and malaria (5%), together with pneumonia, accounted for almost a third of global under-five deaths in 2018. “Malnourished children, particularly those with severe acute malnutrition, have a higher risk of death from these common childhood illnesses. Nutrition-related factors contribute to about 45 per cent of deaths in children under 5 years of age,” warns the report. The estimates also show vast inequalities worldwide, with women and children in sub-Saharan Africa facing a higher risk of death than in all other regions. Level of maternal deaths are nearly 50 times higher for women in sub-Saharan Africa compared to high-income countries. In 2018, 1 in 13 children in sub-Saharan Africa died before their fifth birthday – this is 15 times higher than the risk a child faces in Europe, where just 1 in 196 children aged less than 5 die.

In 2015, the 193 UN Member States adopted the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The third SDG calls for an end to preventable deaths of newborns and children under age 5, with all countries aiming to reduce under-five mortality to at least as low as 25 deaths per 1,000 live births by 2030. The global target for ending preventable maternal mortality is to reduce the mortality ratio to less than 70 per 100 000 live births by 2030. The world will fall short of this target by more than 1 million lives if the current pace of progress continues. “A skilled pair of hands to help mothers and newborns around the time of birth, along with clean water, adequate nutrition, basic medicines and vaccines, can make the difference between life and death. We must do all it takes to invest in universal health coverage to save these precious lives,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director. (ab)

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