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Good and Bad News on Global Child Mortality
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2014-05-12 11:28:15
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“Child mortality [since 1990 is] down by four and a half million a year. That's a rate of 12,000 children's lives saved each day. … It drives me nuts that most people don't seem to know this news.


Considering that we often emphasize the bad news at the expense of the good and keeping in mind the above quote by Bono revealing his anguish and frustration, I’d like to help him a bit in spreading the good news on global child mortality. This is not to encourage complacency, for much remains to be done, but to lift the spirit of those who are generously contributing to the solution of the problem by contributing to UNICEF but may at times feel like despairing. Good results are not only possible, they have already been achieved and should encourage us to persist in our generosity.


In the first place it should be mentioned that the UN branch that has most contributed to the solution of child mortality is UNICEF which is on the ground in over 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence.  The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS.  UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments. For more information about UNICEF and its work visit: www.unicef.org

Here are some encouraging statistics as released in 2011 by UNICEF and the World Health Organization, as referred to by Bono. The number of children under five years of age dying each year declined from more than 12 million in 1990 to 7.6 million in 2010. These new figures show that compared to 1990, around 12,000 more children’s lives are saved each day. 

An annual report on child mortality found that in sub-Saharan Africa, the region with the highest number of under-five deaths in the world, the speed at which the under-five mortality rate is declining doubled from 1.2 per cent a year during 1990-2000 to 2.4 per cent a year during 2000-2010. Between 1990 and 2010, the under-five mortality rate dropped by more than one-third, from 88 deaths per 1,000 live births to 57. Some of the greatest improvements are in countries where children are most vulnerable.

"Reductions in child mortality are linked to many factors, particularly increased access to health care services around the newborn period. As well as prevention and treatment of childhood illnesses, and improved nutrition, immunization coverage, and water and sanitation," has declared Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director General. "This is proof that investing in children's health is money well spent, and a sign that we need to accelerate that investment through the coming years." Dr. Chan and Mr. Lake agreed that the commitment of governments and the implementation of strategies to overcome local constraints to access and use of essential services are critical success factors.

Lest we become too complacent and self-congratulatory, here is the not so good news: we cannot for a moment forget the chilling fact of around 21,000 children dying every day from preventable causes,” said Anthony Lake, UNICEF Executive Director.  “Focusing greater investment on the most disadvantaged communities will help us save more children’s lives, more quickly and more cost effectively.” Unfortunately, this rate of progress is still insufficient to meet Millennium Development Goal 4 (MDG4), which calls for a two-thirds reduction in the under-five mortality rate by 2015.


The report shows that newborns and infants are the most at risk of dying, and there has been less progress for them than within the under-five age category as a whole. More than 40 per cent of under-five deaths occur within the first month of life and over 70 per cent in the first year of life. stark disparities persist.  Sub-Saharan Africa is still home to the highest rates of child mortality, with one in eight children dying  before reaching five – more than 17 times the average for developed regions (1 in 143). Southern Asia has the second highest rates with 1 in 15 children dying before age five. Under-five deaths are increasingly concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia.  In 1990, 69 per cent of under-five deaths occurred in these two regions – in 2010, that proportion increased to 82 per cent.  About half of all under five deaths in the world took place in just five countries in 2010: India, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Pakistan and China.

While we celebrate the celebrate the progress in the alleviation of children’s mortality of the last twenty years, we ought not to sleep on our laurels, rather we ought to redouble our efforts to bring that mortality to zero. That is indeed the goal of UNICEF and should be the goal of every decent and civilized human being on this planet. Contributing to UNICEF could be the first modest step. We owe it first and foremost to the world’s children as well as to the preservation of our own humanity.

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