Child mortality rates have dropped to less than half of what they were in 1990, according to a report from the United Nations (UN) and the World Health Organisation (WHO). Under-fives deaths have dropped from 12.7 million per year in 1990 to 5.9 million in 2015.
This is the first year the figure has gone below the 6 million mark. But health advocates are disappointed that figures have fallen short of the UN’s child mortality goals, with officials saying too many children are still dying of preventable diseases.
While the figures demonstrate a step in the right direction, experts say set targets have not been met and more needs to be done. The UN had set a goal of reducing child mortality rates by two-thirds this year. That goal wasn’t met, which is leaving 16,000 children to die every day, according to the Levels and Trends in Child Mortality Report 2015.
Several areas of risk have been identified, with Sub-Saharan Africa high on the agenda. One in 12 children in sub-Saharan Africa dies before their 5th birthday, according to the report. Focusing on this area of the world is crucial considering that the under-5 demographic is expected to experience a population boom in the next 15 years. Support in the first month of life is also critical – 45% of under-five deaths occur in the first 28 days of life. Babies born in underserved areas are particularly vulnerable in the first 28 days, when they are more susceptible to complications from the labour and delivery, pneumonia, diarrhoea, sepsis, malaria and other issues. Nearly half of all under-5 deaths occur as a result of under-nutrition. Sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia are the areas most affected and experts say that concentrating on more lifesaving support in these areas is critical in bringing down global figures.
UNICEF Deputy Director, Geeta Rao Gupta, said in a statement, “The far too large number of children still dying from preventable causes before their 5th 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.”
Despite low incomes some countries in the region have managed to reach the UN’s child mortality target; working against a background of poverty and an under developed healthcare system, Ethiopia, Liberia, Malawi, Mozambique, Niger, Rwanda, Uganda, and Tanzania have all met the target.
Often, implementing small inexpensive changes can make huge differences. For example in Uganda, women can be turned away from a birthing clinic if they don’t provide their own sheet on which to deliver. This can mean many women do not receive the care they need during labour and delivery putting their life and that of their new born at risk. In Uganda, in 2013, for every 1,000 live births, 44 newborns died, according to the World Bank.
To give babies a better chance at survival, Think Humanity, a non-profit based out of Colorado, donates birthing kits to refugees and underserved communities. Those kits include a sheet, made from similar material as that which garbage bags are composed of, to keep the delivery area sanitary.
Malawi’s child mortality rate has dropped by 72 percent since 1990, according to a recent Save the Children report. It managed to achieve this milestone by working to reach more rural areas and train more people in healthcare and midwifery. However, natural disasters can also affect the child mortality rate. Events such as the recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa and the earth quakes in Nepal can have devastating effects on a countries’ healthcare system and resources.
Assistant Director General at WHO, Dr Flavia Bustreo, said, “We know how to prevent unnecessary newborn mortality. Quality care around the time of childbirth including simple affordable steps like ensuring early skin-to-skin contact, exclusive breastfeeding and extra care for small and sick babies can save thousands of lives every year.”