Africa, South Asia lag in boost to global child health

September 13, 2012 by Andre Viollaz

The global mortality rate for young children has been nearly halved in the past two decades, but Africa and South Asia have not kept pace, the United Nations said Thursday.

The number of infants and children who die before reaching the age of five has dropped from 12 million in 1990 to 6.9 million in 2011, according to the UN Children's Fund, UNICEF. The number of lives saved has sped up over the past decade.

However, "any satisfaction at these gains is tempered by the unfinished business that remains," said UNICEF's executive director, Anthony Lake. Some 19,000 children are still dying each day from largely .

The geographic and social disparity also worries UN experts, who called for devoting more resources to at-risk regions and boosting investment in , along with education for girls.

The biggest improvement in child health has been recorded in Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Pacific, Central and Eastern Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. These regions have cut the child death rate by half since 1990.

Under-five deaths are now increasingly concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, which now account for 80 percent of the world total, said the UNICEF report, titled "Committing to : A Promise Renewed."

Sub-Saharan Africa has only cut its death rate by 39 percent, and accounts for nearly half the deaths each year. One child in nine in the poorest African region still fails to live past his or her fifth birthday.

In eastern and , deaths have been cut through "massive" investment in fighting AIDS, measles and malaria, said the report.

accounts for about a third of total under-five deaths each year.

India (24 percent of the total), Nigeria (11 percent), (seven percent), Pakistan (five percent) and China (four percent) make up half of the total number of world deaths between them.

UNICEF said that poverty is not the only decisive factor in deaths. Children are more likely to die early if they are born in a rural area or if their mother has not had primary education. Conflict and political instability also hit child health prospects.

Some poor countries have made spectacular progress on in recent years, UNICEF said. Laos cut its mortality rate by 72 percent between 1990 and 2011, East Timor by 70 percent, Liberia 68 percent and Bangladesh 67 percent.

"A diverse group of countries including Oman, Estonia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Portugal, Peru and Egypt, among others, have been able to sustain high annual rates of reduction in under five mortality," said the report.

"Others such as Rwanda, Cambodia, Zimbabwe and Senegal have succeeded in substantially accelerating their rates of reduction in mortality during the last decade."

Infectious diseases such as pneumonia, diarrhea and malaria account for two thirds of child deaths.

About 40 percent of the children who die are struck down in the first month of life. Factors weighing against a child's survival include whether the mother is very young, or has had a poor education, and whether there is poor hygiene or no access to water.

Mickey Chopra, head of 's health department, said that poorer countries are getting faster access to vaccines developed in the rich world.

Vaccines now reach poor countries in two to five years, against 20 years in the past, he stressed. Governments and health agencies are also negotiating lower prices with pharmaceutical firms.

Explore further: Pneumonia, diarrhea are top killers of kids: UNICEF

Related Stories

Pneumonia, diarrhea are top killers of kids: UNICEF

June 8, 2012
Pneumonia and diarrhea are among the top causes of childhood deaths around the world, particularly among the poor, said a report out Friday by the UN Children's Fund.

Maternal deaths cut by half: UN

May 16, 2012
Better care has cut the number of women dying in pregnancy and childbirth by nearly half in the past two decades, but there is still a death every two minutes, according to UN figures released Wednesday.

Race to save mothers, children set to fall short

September 20, 2011
A global campaign to save new mothers and children under five in developing nations has made strong gains but is set to fall well shy of UN goals, according to a study released Tuesday.

Preventable infectious diseases caused almost two-thirds of global child under-5 deaths in 2010

May 10, 2012
In 2010, preventable infectious diseases were responsible for almost two-thirds of the 7.6 million deaths of children under five worldwide, according to new estimates published Online First in The Lancet. Although child deaths ...

Recommended for you

80 percent of activity tracker users stick with the devices for at least six months

September 26, 2017
Use of activity trackers, such as wearable devices and smartphone apps, is on the rise, and a new study shows that 80 percent of users stuck with the device for at least six months. Though the gadgets may help motivate users ...

Study finds being in a good mood for your flu jab boosts its effectiveness

September 25, 2017
New research by a team of health experts at the University of Nottingham has found evidence that being in a positive mood on the day of your flu jab can increase its protective effect.

New tool demonstrates high cost of lack of sleep in the workplace

September 25, 2017
Sleep disorders and sleep deficiency are hidden costs that affect employers across America. Seventy percent of Americans admit that they routinely get insufficient sleep, and 30 percent of U.S. workers and 44 percent of night ...

Maternal diet could affect kids' brain reward circuitry

September 25, 2017
Researchers in France found that rats who ate a junk food diet during pregnancy had heavier pups that strongly preferred the taste of fat straight after weaning. While a balanced diet in childhood seemed to reduce the pups' ...

Exercise can make cells healthier, promoting longer life, study finds

September 22, 2017
Whether it's running, walking, cycling, swimming or rowing, it's been well-known since ancient times that doing some form of aerobic exercise is essential to good health and well-being. You can lose weight, sleep better, ...

Breathing dirty air may harm kidneys, study finds

September 21, 2017
Outdoor air pollution has long been linked to major health conditions such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. A new study now adds kidney disease to the list, according to ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.