According to a 2018 USAID article, annually, 2.6 million infants “die within their first month of life.” In addition, about 15% of these deaths come about through complications stemming from “severe infections.” Many of these infections-induced deaths are easily preventable through one simple solution: chlorhexidine. In Nepal, the government of Nepal and USAID piloted a chlorhexidine initiative in 2009. In 2011, Nepal introduced the antiseptic into “routine care nationwide.” The introduction of the antiseptic has safeguarded the lives of more than 1.3 million newborns in Nepal, decreasing levels of child mortality in Nepal. Nigeria, Bangladesh, Pakistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo have also introduced the solution to reduce child mortality rates.
Facts About Child Mortality
- Under 5 Mortality. Child mortality, which people also know as the under-five mortality rate, is the likelihood of a child dying before reaching 5 years of age and is usually calculated per 1,000 live births.
- Child Mortality in Numbers. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), around 5 million children under the age of 5 died in 2020. Newborns accounted for around half of those deaths — about 2.4 million neonatal deaths. Compared to data from 1990, the global child mortality rate has decreased by about 60%. UNICEF estimates that compared to 93 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1990, in 2020, the world noted 37 deaths per 1,000 live births.
- Highest Burdens. Child mortality is most severe in the regions of sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia, where more than 80% of the 5 million deaths of children occurred in 2020.
- Leading Causes. According to WHO, the leading causes of child mortality are infectious diseases such as pneumonia, diarrhea and malaria as well as complications arising from premature birth. The majority of infections are avoidable with simple and affordable health and sanitation solutions.
Child Mortality in Nepal
Nepal stands out in particular within the region of South Asia when it comes to child mortality rates. According to World Bank data, in 1960, Nepal recorded 325 under-5 deaths per 1,000 live births, whereas, in 2020, this number significantly reduced to 28 deaths per 1,000 live births. This is a significant improvement, especially in comparison to other countries. For instance, Pakistan reports 65 deaths per 1,000 live births and Afghanistan reports 58 deaths per 1,000 live births as of 2020.
The reasons for child mortality rates continuing to persist in Nepal are multifold. Lack of preventative measures against infectious diseases like malaria and pneumonia plays a major role in many babies not surviving. Many times, complications at birth occur, which are easily preventable with adequate medical care. Lastly, unhygienic medical conditions result in infections that claim the lives of babies. The adoption of simple and cost-effective solutions, one of which is chlorhexidine, can easily prevent unhygienic conditions and infections.
How Chlorhexidine Helps
Chlorhexidine, an antiseptic that hospitals widely use to disinfect skin and sterilize surgical equipment, comes in both liquid and gel form and is generally affordable. A study in Nepal showed that the use of chlorhexidine significantly reduced the risk of infection by 68% and minimized child deaths by 23%, USAID reported. The study led to the start of the 2009 USAID-led chlorhexidine program, supported by the Government of Nepal. Following the successful results visible in the program, chlorhexidine became a part of the entire nation’s medical care in 2011. In regions where people prefer home birth and use risky methods of birthing, chlorhexidine has helped save the lives of numerous children.
The application of this solution has decreased child mortality in Nepal and could impact the entire region’s child mortality rate. Chlorhexidine could also benefit regions like sub-Saharan Africa where infant deaths remain a concern.
– Umaima Munir