Global mortality among children younger than five years declined by 26 percent between 2000 and 2010 - meaning that the lives of some two million children were saved - but this is still not enough for many countries to meet the Millennium Development Goal of reducing deaths in this age group by two-thirds by 2015, according to recent US research.
“Too much emphasis has been placed in recent years on global numbers and mortality, and less on understanding the determinants and direction of trends,” wrote Zulfiqar Bhutta, head of the maternal and child health division at the Aga Khan University Medical Centre in Karachi, Pakistan in a commentary accompanying the study.
He noted that annual deaths from diarrhoea - a leading killer among young children - fell to less than 800,000 during the past two decades, but the drop occurred mostly in large countries like China, Brazil and India, and overall “the incidence of diarrhoeal disorders has hardly changed”.
In a study by Johns Hopkins University, researchers used birth and death registries, household surveys, verbal autopsy (interviews with people familiar with the deceased to learn the cause of death) and multi-cause models to estimate the causes of death in children younger than five years during 2010 to monitor the progress of 193 countries towards Millennium Development Goal 4 (MDG) - slashing child deaths annually by 4.4 percent, or 66 percent over 15 years.
The study showed an average drop in mortality of only 2.6 percent annually, with preventable infectious diseases causing almost two-thirds of the deaths. Pre-term birth (before 37 weeks of pregnancy) followed by pneumonia were responsible for the highest number of deaths globally, with Africa and Southeast Asia hardest hit.
In Africa, 73 percent of all child deaths (2.6 million children) were attributed mostly to malaria and HIV/AIDS, while in Southeast Asia nearly one million babies died within their first 28 days of life because of too-early birth, problems during delivery, or infection.