Since 2000, improved child mortality rates mean 48 million children under 5 have been saved

The Takeaway
Children rehearse

For the first time, the number of deaths among children under the age of 5 has dipped below six million — a number that hovered around 12.7 million per year in 1990.

The report, “Committing to Child Survival: A Promise Renewed,” was released Wednesday by the World Health Organization, the World Bank Group, UNICEF and the Population Division of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

“Globally, change has occurred everywhere, but more so in sub-Saharan Africa, where we need it most,” says Priscilla Idele, chief of the UNICEF Data Analysis Unit. “Child mortality has been falling in the poorest countries, in fragile countries, in countries facing different humanitarian crises, in households that are poor with children living in the poorest parts of the world. We see change everywhere.”

Among other factors, the new report argues that the childhood mortality rate is on the decline because of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals. Established in September 2000, world leaders committed their nations to a global partnership to reduce extreme poverty by 2015. Since 2000, the world has saved the lives of 48 million children under 5.

“These results — achieved in cities and villages, in wealthy and poor countries, in every region of the world — represent one of the first great achievements of the new millennium,” the report says.

While the numbers are encouraging, more work still needs to be done — the report notes that 16,000 children under the age of 5 still die every day. But Idele has seen firsthand how programs aimed at fighting childhood mortality can make a difference in sub-Saharan Africa — a place where 88 percent of the world’s HIV-positive children live.

“Meeting the young mothers that I met in the healthcare facility, in the delivery ward, brought tears to my eyes,” she says of a trip to Swaziland. “These were young girls between the ages of 15 to 24 — all of them waiting for delivery of their babies — who had been through a mother to child transmission program in order to minimize [HIV] transmission to their children.”

Because of the prevention programs rolled out in the area, Idele says most of the women she met with were able to safely deliver their children without passing on HIV — an impressive feat for a nation that has the world's highest rate of HIV-infected adults.

And though Idele is an analyst, she says the new report on childhood mortality goes beyond data.

“I have lived the experience of many, and I have seen the suffering of many,” she says. “It’s something that I’ve taken personally.

This story first aired as an interview on PRI's The Takeaway, a public radio program that invites you to be part of the American conversation.

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