Child death rates halve since 1990, but UN target missed

Western Asia, which includes the Middle East, achieved its MDG target by cutting child mortality by 66 per cent

Children are half as likely to die before their fifth birthday now then they were in 1990, show new estimates from four leading agencies, including UNICEF.

Mortality figures for this age group have plummeted from 12.7 million per year in 1990 to 5.9 million in 2015, an improvement of 53 per cent, the agencies said.

Despite the dramatic fall-off in deaths, the change still falls short of the target established by the millennium development goals (MDG), which aimed for a 66 per cent reduction over the same period. Western Asia, the region covering Middle East countries, achieved its MDG target, cutting child mortality from 66 deaths per thousand in 1990 to 22 per thousand in 2015, a decline of 66 per cent and among the highest level of improvement seen. Despite such improvements, disease, malnutrition, conflict and accidents still claim the lives of 16,000 children under five every day, with the greatest concentration of mortality occurs in the first 28 days of life.

“We have to acknowledge tremendous global progress, especially since 2000 when many countries have tripled the rate of reduction of under-five mortality,” said Geeta Rao Gupta, deputy executive director of UNICEF, in a statement.

“But the far too large number of children still dying from preventable causes before their fifth birthday – and indeed within their first month of life – should impel us to redouble our efforts to do what we know needs to be done. We cannot continue to fail them.”

A massive 45 per cent of under-five deaths occur in the neonatal period, caused by everything from prematurity, pneumonia or complications during labour and delivery. Diarrhoea, sepsis, and malaria are other leading causes of deaths of the under fives, but nearly half of all under-five deaths are linked to under nutrition.

Geography too has a huge impact on a child’s chances of survival, with kids in sub-Saharan Africa 12 times more likely to die than a child from a high-income country. Roughly one-third of the world’s countries – 62 in all – have actually met the MDG target to reduce under-five mortality by two-thirds, while another 74 have reduced rates by at least half.

Progress in reducing under-five mortality has accelerated around the world, with annual rates of reduction increased from 1.8 per cent between 1990-2000 to 3.9 per cent between 2000-2015.

Photo credit: UNICEF/ El Baba