Thanks mainly to campaigns to combat measles and malaria and promote breast-feeding, child deaths worldwide have reached a record low, falling below 10 million per year for the first time to 9.7 million, down from almost 13 million in 1990, according to new figures released today by the United Nations Children’s Fund.
“This is an historic moment,” UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman said. “More children are surviving today than ever before. Now we must build on this public health success to push for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals,” she added of the ambitious targets set by the UN Millennium Summit of 2000, which include slashing by two thirds the mortality rate among children under five by 2015.
The Latin American and Caribbean region is on track to achieve the child mortality Millennium Development Goal, with 27 deaths on average for every 1,000 live births, compared to 55 per thousand in 1990.
There has been significant progress in parts of Sub-Saharan Africa. Under-five mortality has declined 29 per cent between 2000 and 2004 in Malawi. In Ethiopia, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Rwanda and Tanzania child mortality rates have declined by more than 20 per cent.
The highest rates of child mortality are still found in West and Central Africa. In southern Africa hard-won gains in child survival have been undermined by the spread of HIV and AIDS.
Much of the progress is the result of the widespread adoption of basic health interventions, such as early and exclusive breast feeding, measles immunization, Vitamin A supplementation and the use of insecticide-treated bed nets to prevent malaria.
“The new figures show that progress is possible if we act with renewed urgency to scale-up interventions that have proven successful,” Ms. Veneman said. “There is a clear need for action on child survival in Africa and beyond.”
In addition, there is unprecedented support for global health, with increased funding and expanding partnerships, including with Governments, the private sector, international foundations and civil society, UNICEF added.