Lancet Study: Child Death Rates Dropping Around the World
Fewer children are dying around the world each year and the decline in child deaths is accelerating, according to a study published Monday in the Lancet.
The research, done by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, shows that deaths in children under five years of age dropped from 11.9 million in 1990 to an estimated 7.7 million this year, and that progress has accelerated in the last decade.
The fastest rates of decline occurred in Latin American and North African countries, while several countries in Sub-Saharan Africa had the lowest rate of improvement.
The authors say immunization, insecticide-treated bednets for malaria prevention, treatment to prevent mother-child HIV transmission and antiretroviral drugs are likely contributing to the decline.
“It’s really, at the global level, really encouraging news. We are seeing that child deaths have dropped below the 8 million mark for the first time ever,” lead author Christopher Murray told the NewsHour.
The new estimate is about 800,000 lower than UNICEF’s most recent estimate for 2008.
Improvements were nearly comparable across neonatal, infant and child mortality rates — a surprise to researchers.
“There is a perception in the public health community that there has been almost no progress in neonatal mortality around the world,” Murray said, but the group found neonatal deaths had dropped by more than 40 percent since 1990.
The new analysis had different results because it uses nearly twice as many data points than previous studies to chart country progress. The same institute found a significant drop in maternal mortality rates in April of this year, compared to earlier estimates.
That survey caused some debate, with public health experts pointing out that maternal death data is hard to collect and can be unreliable. But Murray said there is much more data available on child mortality.
Mickey Chopra, chief of health and associate director of programs at UNICEF, said the results do align with UNICEF’s observations of an acceleration in decline of child deaths and that the organization is looking closely at the model used for the analysis.
Ultimately, Chopra said, UNICEF hopes countries will invest in proper monitoring of child mortality indicators so that modeling is less necessary, but that the Lancet study gives good reason for the international health community to be upbeat.
“This kind of progress was unimaginable just 10 years ago and what it is saying to us is even in the poorest settings we can make a difference,” Chopra said. “But there is still a long way to go.”
Improvements in low-income countries like Niger and Mali were particularly striking, he said.
Globally, the annual rate of decline in deaths of children under age 5 is at 2.1 percent, higher than expected, but still not high enough to achieve the U.N. Millennium Development Goal of a two-thirds reduction between 1990 and 2015.
Murray said the data shows “All the efforts that we’ve been making in the last 10 years in maternal and child health are paying off,” and said he hopes it will be used as an incentive for further funding.