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Health World Health Organization Unicef Malawi Tanzania Reports

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Child mortality halves with African countries leading the way

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A child drinks from a water fountain installed by Unicef Unicef/Cherkaoui DR

Child death rates across the globe have fallen by more than 50 per cent since 1990, according to a new report by the United Nations.


Deaths of children under the age of five have dropped by nearly 7 million per year, bringing this figure to under 6 million for the very first time.

The report highlights the fact that the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of reducing child deaths by two-thirds by the end of this year will not be reached. But Geeta Rao Gupta, deputy executive director of the UN’s children’s agency (Unicef), said it is still important "to acknowledge the tremendous global progress.”

Though this MDG will not be reached worldwide, and despite their relatively low incomes, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Malawi and a few other African nations all met the target. These countries also faced the immense challenge of a burgeoning under-five population but saw these real declines in child mortality in spite of the population boom.

As the number of people in sub-Saharan Africa is projected to increase by nearly a third over the next 15 years, keeping this rate of decline in children’s deaths will be a challenge.

Jasminka Milovanovic works with Save the Children in Tanzania, another country that exceeded the MDGs two-thirds target. She told RFI that their successes have come not only by rolling out clinics and medicines but also by working to change people’s behaviour, giving the example of encouraging expecting mothers to give birth in medical centres rather than at home.

Malawi is also a great success story of this report. Not long ago it was often at, or very near, the bottom of many measures of health care access and development, which spurred an in-pouring of support staff and funds. Now the country has surpassed this MDG and the rate is still increasing.

Though a tremendous amount of progress has been made, there are still huge challenges to overcome. This influx of non-governmental organisations and aid into countries such as Malawi has left many governments wholly dependent on the outside help, leaving countries vulnerable to sudden decreases in financing.

For nearly half of those children that do die before their fifth birthday, it happens in the neonatal period (the first 28 days). That is where the focus is now turning to make sure this Millennium Development Goal is reached, however far past the 2015 deadline it takes to achieve.