Egypt blazes a trail in cutting child mortality rates

Cairo is the only megacity in the world to dramatically slash its rate of under-five deaths, says children's charity

The number of children in Cairo who die before reaching their fifth birthday has halved thanks to the advent of free or subsidised healthcare for poorer households, according to global charity Save the Children.

The city succeeded in cutting overall child mortality by 55 per cent in the 14 years to 2014, making Cairo the only megacity in the world to dramatically slash its rate of under-five deaths, according to the charity’s annual index measuring mother and child survival rates around the world.

Across Egypt, the risk of infant mortality fell 47 per cent in affluent areas between 1995 and 2008, and by 66 per cent among its poorest urban residents during the same period.

“Each city has its own challenges and set of solutions, but the deciding factor in a city’s success remains the same: the political will and commitment of government and decision makers to pursue these solutions, and the support of civil society and donors,” Soha Ellaithy, senior director of Save the Children in the Gulf, told Philanthropy Age. “It does not require a lot of money; what it requires is commitment and openness to collaboration.”

The annual State of the World’s Mothers report compares urban maternal and infant mortality rates in 179 countries. Across the globe, the list reveals huge disparities between income groups, caused by factors such as underfunded public health systems, and a lack of access to healthcare and good sanitation.

Worldwide, children in slums are at least twice as likely to die before their fifth birthday than the richest urban children. In India and Bangladesh, where urban poverty gnaws at survival rates of the poorest households, more than half of low-income urban children are stunted, compared to 20 per cent of the wealthiest children.

“For babies living in overcrowded and unhygienic slums, lack of access to affordable and lifesaving interventions – like safe drinking water, immunisations, care for mother and baby during pregnancy and immediately after delivery, treatments for diarrhoea, pneumonia and other common illnesses – can equal death,” said Ellaithy.

Egypt’s success in tackling child mortality is down to better provision of healthcare for the poor, according to the report. More than 60 per cent of health clinics in hospitals offer free health services and the number of married women aged 15 to 49 using family planning has risen from 38 per cent in 1988, to 59 per cent in 2014.

The lifetime risk of maternal death for women in the Arab country is 1 in 710. The risk to mothers in South Asia is significantly higher. Mothers face a 1 in 250 chance of death in Bangladesh, rising to a 1 in 190 chance in India and 1 in 170 in Pakistan. The South Asian nations ranked 130, 140 and 149, respectively, in the index overall.

The best countries to be a mother are Norway, Finland and Iceland. Somalia took the bottom spot for the second year running, while Egypt placed 116 out of 179 countries.

Some 17,000 children die worldwide each day before their fifth birthday, according to Save the Children. The charity recommends putting equal access to healthcare in the post-2015 development goals, guaranteeing universal health coverage, setting nutrition targets and better urban planning as ways to combat preventable child deaths.

Photo credit: Save the Children