Botswana has been singled out as a role model as fewer children under the age of five are dying in the world today than in past years.
The latest data from UNICEF revealed that globally, the number of young children who died in 2007 dropped to 9.2 million, compared to 12.7 million deaths in 1990.
“Since 1960, the global under-five mortality rate has declined more than 60 percent, and the new data shows that downward trend continues,” UNICEF Executive Director, Ann Veneman, said as she announced the new figures.
UNICEF’s Chief of Health, Dr. Peter Salama, attributes the decline in the rate of child mortality to improved maternal health care and disease prevention and control programmes.
“Botswana, for example, is providing a very important example of a country with a very high HIV prevalence that has turned the corner ÔÇô and where under-five mortality is starting to go down,” said Dr. Salama. “We think that is really because there’s been enormous progress in coverage of anti-retroviral treatment for adults, and increasingly for children, and the coverage for prevention of mother-to-child transmission has been extremely high.”
Countries such as the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bolivia have made the most progress in reducing child mortality; their under-five mortality rates have dropped by more than 50 per cent since 1990. These nations are well on track to achieving the Millennium Development Goal of reducing child mortality by two-thirds by 2015.
Significant progress is being made in Africa, as well. Eritrea’s under-five mortality rate has declined by 52 per cent over the last 17 years. During the same period, child mortality rates have declined by at least 40 per cent in Malawi, Mozambique, Niger and Ethiopia.
Despite this progress, Africa remains the continent with the highest rate of child mortality. Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for almost half of all global deaths of children under five, while the same region accounts for only 22 per cent of all births worldwide.
Sierra Leone is the country with the worst under-five mortality rate in the world: 262 out of every 1,000 children there die before their fifth birthday.
The main causes of child mortality are pneumonia, malaria, diarrhea, AIDS and vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles, according to the UNICEF data.
Under nutrition is also a major contributing cause in more than a third of all under-five child deaths. To ensure that these children have an opportunity to survive, UNICEF believes efforts to address the nutritional needs of women, infants and children must be accelerated.
“While progress has been made, much remains to be done,” said Veneman.
“As we are more successful in some ways, the task is a little harder,” added Dr. Salama. “As coverage of basic services gets higher, the most underserved populations are sometimes the most difficult to access. “
To ensure further declines in child mortality in the future, UNICEF is calling for a greater focus on newborn and maternal health, as well as strengthening basic health systems in areas where young children are at risk.