fifth_birthdayFor the first time ever, child mortality rates have plummeted below the 6 million mark, finally less than half of what they were in 1990 at 12.7 million.

While this number demonstrates a significant achievement towards global progress for the United Nations, this 53% decrease has not met the Millennium Development Goal of a two-thirds reduction set to occur between 1990-2015.

With 16,000 children under 5 still dying each day, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Geeta Rao Gupta believes the challenges to saving these children must be met full-force.

“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,” said Gupta in a World Health Organization (WHO) article.

Recognizing when children are most vulnerable is a necessary means of counteracting the cycle. This time of vulnerability has been determined to occur within the period at or around birth, with 45% of under-5 deaths happening within the neonatal period, which is the first 28 days of life.

Issues such as prematurity, pneumonia, complications during labor and delivery, diarrhea, sepsis and malaria are all leading causes of death for children under 5 years old, and it is here where improvements can begin.

In fact, nearly half of all under-5 deaths are associated with undernutrition. However, with the appropriate interventions, most of these occurrences are preventable.

For example, just by focusing on sub-Saharan regions which experience the highest levels of under-5 mortality rates in the world (with 1 in 12 children dying before their fifth birthday), these numbers can be vastly reduced.

Dr. Flavia Bustreo, Assistant Director-General at WHO, ensures we possess the knowledge to reduce newborn mortality.

“We know how to prevent unnecessary newborn mortality. Quality care around the time of childbirth including simple affordable steps like ensuring early skin-to-skin contact, exclusive breastfeeding and extra care for small and sick babies can save thousands of lives every year,” she said.

Although many countries have already made incredible progress in reducing their number of child mortality rates, further progress must be made in the hopes of making sure all mothers and their children are ensured proper care by 2030.

Fortunately, it is through initiatives like the Global Financing Facility, in Support of Every Woman Every Child, which focus on “smarter, scaled and sustainable financing” that the UN is able to support and enable countries with the resources they need to “deliver essential health services and accelerate reductions in child mortality.”

With these programs in place, there is great potential for many more fifth birthdays to come.

– Nikki Schaffer

Sources: Child Mortality World Health Organization
Photo: Flickr