A UN report shows a sharp reduction in child mortality since the turn of the millennium, but the reduction is not evenly distributed between different parts of the world and different age groups. Photo: Yvonne Larsson. Source: Flickr.


Child mortality is decreasing – but the work is far from over

Since the turn of the millennium, the death rate for children under the age of five in the world has halved, according to a UN report. Proximity and access to child and maternal health care, midwives and vaccinations are some of the explanations. But the work to reduce global child mortality is far from over, especially when it comes to mortality among newborns.

In 2022, one child died every six seconds from preventable causes. It shows en investigation report from the UN Group on Child Mortality (UN IGME), which consists of representatives from UNICEF and WHO, among others.  

Premature birth or birth complications, diarrhoea, pneumonia and malaria are some of the preventable or treatable causes of infant mortality. 

The UN's third sustainability goal - good health and well-being - of the 17 global goals aim to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for people of all ages. Its second milestone aims to ensure that by 2030, no infants or children under the age of five die from preventable causes. 

However, at the current rate, 59 countries in the world will not reach the milestone for reducing under-5 mortality, and 64 countries will not reach the milestone for reducing infant mortality. By the year 2030, an estimated 35 million children will die before reaching the age of five by the year 2030.  

- A part that is often forgotten is the mortality rate among newborns, says Mats Blennow, pediatrician and board member of Doctors Without Borders, to SVT. 

Half of the children under 5 who lost their lives in 2022 were newborns. According to Mats Blennow, infant mortality for newborns has not decreased at the same rate as for the rest of the group of children under 5 years of age, which he believes is due to the fact that they are not prioritized as much as other groups of children. 

It matters where you are born

- Although welcome progress has been made, millions of families are still affected each year by the devastating grief of losing a child, often in the very first days after birth, writes WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in a press release. 

- Where a child is born should not determine whether it lives or dies, he continues. 

Of the roughly 35 million children under the age of five who are expected to die by 2030, a majority live in sub-Saharan Africa and southern Asia, according to the UN report. 

The report emphasizes that children born in the poorest households in the world are twice as likely to die before the age of five compared to the richest households. At the same time, children living in unstable or conflict-affected environments are almost three times more likely to die before their fifth birthday than children in other countries. For example, approximately fmillions of children in Sudan and half a million children in Northern Gaza acutely malnourished and are at risk of dying from malnutrition and starvation, according to the UN children's rights organization UNICEF. 

It has gotten better 

Despite gloomy figures, the report shows a positive trend, for example halving global child mortality over the past 24 years 

- We know that millions of children's lives can be saved if we only prioritize children's health, and this report reinforces the evidence for that. Investing in children has an effect here and now and well into the future says Pernilla Baralt, UNICEF Sweden's Secretary General. 

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