10,000 fewer children dying daily

The number of children worldwide dying before age five dropped 28 percent between 1990 and 2008, according to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), or 10,000 fewer children are dying each day. UNICEF says while the trend is encouraging improvement is coming too slowly.

“This is good and bad news,” said UNICEF spokesperson in West Africa Gaelle Bausson. “Drops continue and the trend is on the right track, but the number of children dying is still unacceptable and in some regions the rate of progress is very slow."

Last year 8.8 million under-five children died versus 12.5 million in 1990. Africa and Asia combined account for 93 percent of all under-five deaths each year, says UNICEF. Three countries – Democratic Republic of Congo, India and Nigeria – account for 40 percent of the world’s under-five deaths.

The decline is not occurring quickly enough to meet the Millennium Development Goal of reducing child mortality by two-thirds by 2015, UNICEF said in a 10 September communiqué.

However the figures relate to household surveys that in most cases were undertaken several years ago, and might not reflect a boost in efforts to reduce child mortality over recent years, Bausson said, adding: “Nor do they reflect the impact of the [rising food prices] or economic crisis.”

The biggest child killers globally are malaria, pneumonia and diarrhoea, according to UNICEF. Malaria has proven to be relatively easier to prevent, while pneumonia and diarrhea – prevention of which requires reforms to health care systems, improved water and sanitation infrastructure and behavioural changes – have proven harder to tackle, said Bausson.

UNICEF says measles vaccinations and Vitamin A supplements are cost-effective measures proven to keep infants alive. UNICEF’s Bausson told IRIN boosting child survival requires that national health systems be made more “child-friendly”.

“This means boosting these cost-effective programmes, supporting child and maternal health services, addressing children’s nutritional status and improving women’s health knowledge so they can recognize the signs of illness.”