UNICEF this week released new figures that show the rate of deaths of children under five years of age continued to decline in 2008.
The data shows a 28 percent decline in the under-five mortality rate since 1990 — from 90 deaths in every 1000 births, down to 65 deaths in 2008.
“Compared to 1990, 10,000 fewer children are dying every day,” said UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman.
The data shows global under-five mortality has decreased steadily over the past two decades, and that the rate of the improvement has increased since the 1990s. The rate of decline this decade is 2.3 per cent, compared to a 1.4 per cent average decline from 1990 to 2000.
Public health experts attribute the continuing decline to increased use of key health interventions, such as immunizations, including measles vaccinations, the use of insecticide-treated bednets to prevent malaria and Vitamin A supplementation. Where these interventions have increased, positive results have followed.
Progress has been seen in every part of the world, and even in some of the least-developed countries. A key example is Malawi, one of ten high under-five mortality countries that is now on track to achieve the Millennium Development Goal (set in 1990) of a two-thirds reduction in under-five mortality by 2015.
Estimates show that under-five mortality in Malawi has fallen from 225 deaths per 1000 live births in 1990, to 100 per thousand on 2008. In 2000, only 3 per cent of children under five slept under a mosquito net – a key means of preventing malaria, whereas by 2006 this had risen to 25 per cent. Malawi has focused its limited resources on improvements in health and health systems and the use of the most effective interventions, with the result that significant numbers of children’s lives have been saved.
The new data also shows that seven of the 67 high mortality countries have consistently achieved annual rates of reduction of under-five mortality of 4.5 per cent or higher. These are Nepal, Bangladesh, Eritrea, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Mongolia, Bolivia and Malawi.
The two leading causes of under-five mortality are pneumonia and diarrhea. New tools, such as vaccines against pneumococcal pneumonia and rotaviral diarrhea, could provide additional momentum toward achieving the Millennium Development Goal. (UNICEF)