Despite Recent Gains, Effort to Reduce Child Mortality Lags

Child mortality declined by more than half globally but failed to meet goals


Despite a large drop in child mortality across the world in recent years, the effort to keep kids alive is still lagging behind global goals.

A new World Health Organization (WHO) report found that child mortality rates have been reduced by half since 1990, and deaths of kids younger than 5 dropped from 12.7 million a year in 1990 to 5.9 million in 2015.

Despite these massive improvements, 16,000 children under 5 years old die each day, noted the report authors.

Although global efforts have been substantial, the 53 percent global decline in child mortality rates is not enough to meet the international goal of a two-thirds reduction between 1990 and 2015, according to a WHO press release.

“We have to acknowledge tremendous global progress, especially since 2000, when many countries have tripled the rate of reduction of under-five mortality,” said UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Geeta Rao Gupta, per the press release. “But the far too large number of children still dying from preventable causes before their fifth 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. We cannot continue to fail them.”

According to the WHO report, 45 percent of deaths in children younger than 5 occur in the first 28 days after childbirth — known as the neonatal period. Most of these deaths, the report authors said, are preventable.

Leading causes of death in children younger than 5 include pneumonia, complications during labor and delivery, prematurity, sepsis, diarrhea and malaria. Poor nutrition played a role in about half of deaths in this age group, according to the report.

A child’s chance of survival depends largely on where he or she is born, according to the report authors. Sub-Saharan Africa had the highest child mortality rate — 1 in 12 children died before age 5 — while higher-income countries averaged 1 in 147.

Dr. Tim Evans, senior director of health, nutrition and population at the World Bank Group, said in a press release: “Many countries have made extraordinary progress in cutting their child mortality rates. However, we still have much to do before 2030 to ensure that all women and children have access to the care they need."

This report was co-authored by UNICEF, the WHO, the World Bank and the UN-DESA Population Division.