Child Deaths Drop to Record Low Worldwide, HIV/AIDS Hampering Progress in Africa, UNICEF Figures Say
The number of deaths among children under age five worldwide reached a record low of nearly 10 million in 2006 because of global efforts to promote malaria prevention measures, childhood immunization and breast-feeding; however, HIV/AIDS has hampered efforts to prevent such deaths in parts of Africa, UNICEF officials said Wednesday, Reuters reports.
UNICEF figures show that 9.7 million children under age five died last year, 4.8 million of whom lived in sub-Saharan Africa. Worldwide, the death rate for children under age five in 2006 was 72 deaths per 1,000 live births. The 2006 rate is a 23% decrease from 1990, when 93 per 1,000 children died before the age of five, according to the agency. Some of the leading causes of death among children were HIV/AIDS, malaria, pneumonia, premature births, birth defects, diarrhea and measles.
Officials credit several public health initiatives for the reduction in child deaths, including campaigns to:
- Persuade mothers to breast-feed their infants exclusively during the first six months after birth;
- Provide antiretroviral treatment to HIV-positive children;
- Deliver insecticide-treated nets to prevent the spread of malaria;
- Provide vitamin A supplements to children; and
- Increase childhood immunization against a variety of diseases (Dunham, Reuters, 9/12).
"This is a historic moment," UNICEF Executive Director Ann Veneman, said, adding, "More children are surviving today than ever before. Now we must build on this public health success to push for the achievement" of the U.N. Millennium Development Goals, which seek to reduce the global infant mortality rate by two-thirds by 2015 (UNICEF release, 9/13). Veneman said that the countries showing the most improvement focused on extending simple initiatives to rural areas and utilizing less costly prevention measures rather than expensive care, the Times reports.
"We feel we're at a tipping point now," Peter Salama, UNICEF's chief medical officer, said, adding, "In a few years' time, it will all translate into a very exciting drop" (New York Times, 9/13).
Experts also acknowledged that HIV/AIDS has impeded efforts to reduce child deaths in Africa, the Washington Post reports. "Over the past 10 to 15 years in most sub-Saharan African countries, there has been basically no discernable improvement in child mortality," Ruth Levine -- vice president of the Center for Global Development, a Washington, D.C.-based not-for-profit research organization -- said. She added that there is "justified hope that things are improving now," but there are so "many challenges, particularly in southern Africa where they are dealing with an AIDS pandemic" (Lee, Washington Post, 9/13).