New York: As many as 6.3 million children under 15 years of age died in 2017, or 1 every 5 seconds, mostly of preventable causes, according to new mortality estimates released by UNICEF, the World Health Organisation (WHO), the United Nations Population Division and the World Bank Group on Tuesday.
The vast majority of these deaths –5.4 million – occur in the first five years of life, with newborns accounting for around half of the deaths.
“Without urgent action, 56 million children under five will die from now until 2030– half of them newborns,” said Laurence Chand, UNICEF Director of Data, Research and Policy. “We have made remarkable progress to save children since 1990, but millions are still dying because of who they are and where they are born. With simple solutions like medicines, clean water, electricity and vaccines, we can change that reality for every child.”
Globally, in 2017, half of all deaths under five years of age took place in sub-Saharan Africa, and another 30 per cent in Southern Asia. In sub-Saharan Africa, 1 in 13 children died before their fifth birthday. In high-income countries, that number was 1in 185.
“Millions of babies and children should not still be dying every year from lack of access to water, sanitation, proper nutrition or basic health services,” said Dr. Princess Nono Simelela, Assistant Director-General for Family, Women and Children’s Health at WHO.
Most children under 5 die due to preventable or treatable causes such as complications during birth, pneumonia, diarrhea, neonatal sepsis and malaria. By comparison, among children between 5 and 14 years of age, injuries become a more prominent cause of death, especially from drowning and road traffic.
For children everywhere, the most risky period of life is the first month. In 2017, 2.5 million newborns died in their first month. A baby born in sub-Saharan Africa or in Southern Asia was nine times more likely to die in the first month than a baby born in a high-income country.
Even within countries, disparities persist. Under-five mortality rates among children in rural areas are, on average, 50 per cent higher than among children in urban areas. In addition, those born to uneducated mothers are more than twice as likely to die before turning five than those born to mothers with a secondary or higher education.
Despite these challenges, fewer children are dying each year worldwide. The number of children dying under five has fallen dramatically from 12.6 million in 1990 to 5.4 million in 2017. The number of deaths in older children aged between 5 to 14 years dropped from 1.7 million to under a million in the same period.
India continues to show impressive gains in reduction of child deaths with under-five deaths in India falling below the one million mark for the first time as per the latest UN estimates.
India’s share of global child deaths continues to steadily reduce, declining from nearly 22 percent in 2012 to 18 percent in 2017, which is now for the first time equal to its share of the total global births. (India accounts for 18 percent of global births and now also 18 percent of global child deaths)
The under-five mortality rate of India at 39 per 1000 now equals that of the world, highlighting the much faster decline by India in the last five years as compared to the global decline. (Under-five mortality of India: 39 per 1000 and global also is 39 per 1000)
The gender gap in child survival has reduced almost fourfold in the last five years, with under-five mortality of girl child now being 2.5 percent higher, compared to nearly 10 percent in 2012. In spite of the progress, more work is still needed as globally it is nearly 11 percent higher for boys.
The share of neonatal to under-five mortality continues to increase due to faster decline in post neonatal deaths, with newborn deaths now contributing to62 percent of under-five deaths, calling for greater investments in care before and during pregnancy, and in the period around child birth.