Big decline in global child deaths vindicates health efforts

A new report reveals that the number of deaths of children under 5 worldwide has significantly dropped in the past 10 years.

By James Addis, World Vision U.S. Photo by Mary Kate MacIsaac, World Vision Afghanistan.
Published September 20, 2011 at 12:00am PDT

New figures showing a substantial decline in the global number of children who die before their fifth birthday demonstrates the success of renewed efforts by humanitarian organizations and governments to improve child health.

Child-focused health programs are working

Robert Zachritz, World Vision’s senior director of advocacy and government relations, says the focused health assistance is working.

“Those who say money spent on aid is going down a rat hole are wrong,” he says.

Last week, UNICEF and the World Health Organization released the “Levels & Trends in Child Mortality” (pdf) report, which says that the number of deaths of children under 5 worldwide has declined from more than 12 million in 1990 to 7.6 million in 2010.

Zachritz says the decline in child deaths is especially remarkable when considering that the world’s population continues to rise. Even though there are more children than ever before, the number who die early continues to drop.

He also notes that the decline in deaths vindicates initiatives such as World Vision’s Child Health Now campaign, with its emphasis on child nutrition, maternal health, and the prevention and treatment of common childhood infections.

Zachritz adds that many of the programs the campaign promotes are extremely cost-effective. Many vaccines cost just a few pennies for each dose, and an insecticidal-treated bed net to protect a child against malaria can be purchased for less than $20.

The Child Health Now campaign was launched in 2009 and commits World Vision to spend $1.5 billion over the next five years to help end preventable child deaths.

Neonatal mortality rate not declining as rapidly

But amid the good news, the UNICEF and WHO report notes progress will have to pick up speed to meet the Millennium Development Goal of reducing under-5 mortality by two-thirds by 2015. It adds that neonatal deaths — those occurring in the first month of a baby’s life — are not declining as rapidly as hoped.

Globally, neonatal mortality has declined by an average of 1.7 percent a year since 1990, whereas under-5 mortality has declined on average 2.2 percent per year. Zachritz says this fact should compel humanitarian organizations to pay more attention to pregnancy, childbirth, and the first days of a child’s life.

New campaign highlights mother and child health

This week, World Vision joined with ABC News and the United Nations Foundation to launch the Million Moms Challenge — an effort to shine light on the extraordinary challenges faced by mothers and babies in the developing world.

The Million Moms Challenge will connect moms across the globe through social media channels and stories aired on ABC News broadcasts. It will also help raise funds for maternal and child health programs.

The Million Moms Challenge will focus on issues mothers care about: the right nutrition to support their pregnancies, skilled attendants to assist in safe deliveries of newborns, and vaccines that allow children to survive and celebrate their first birthdays and beyond.

Three ways you can help

Thank God for this encouraging news. Pray for children who continue to be vulnerable to diseases and malnutrition. Pray that countries and individucals with the power to act and save lives would do so.

Add your name to the Child Health Now petition. Let President Obama know that allowing 21,000 children to die each day is unacceptable.

Make a one-time gift to help provide life-saving medicines and supplies. Your donation, combined with supplies donated by top pharmaceutical companies, multiplies 14 times to help save children and families in 20 of the world’s poorest countries.