Child mortality drops around the world but some rich countries lag

Carolyn Moynihan
25 May 2010
Reproduced with Permission

The number of children under five dying has declined substantially in the past 20 years and the rate of decline is speeding up, according to a report in The Lancet medical journal. Some developing countries are doing surprisingly well, but rates in the US and Britain are not good by developed world standards -- for reasons that are not clear.

In a study funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation -- which seems to be a companion piece to this one on falling maternal death rates -- Dr Christopher J L Murray and colleagues analysed data from 187 countries and found a global decline in early childhood deaths from 11.9 million in 1990 to a predicted 7.7 million this year. The UN's Millennium Development Goal of reducing these deaths by two-thirds from 1990 to 2015 will probably still not be reached, but the picture is a lot better than many experts thought.

Especially encouraging are accelerated declines in sub-Saharan Africa over the past 10 years, particularly where governments have focused on child survival and primary care.

Dr Murray suggests that vaccines, AIDS medicines, vitamin A supplements, better treatment of diarrhoea and pneumonia, insecticide-treated bed nets to prevent malaria and more education for women are among factors that have helped lower death rates.

Further to the last point -- about "education for women" -- the New York Times report includes the necessary ritual bow to birth control:

Dr. Flavia Bustreo, director of the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health, a group administered by the World Health Organization, said that an important factor in the improvements was "reduced fertility"