Why Child Survival Rates Continue to Improve

Last week Melinda Gates, the Co-Chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, wrote on Impatient Optimists that the most important statistic in the world is the rate of child survival. It is one of the only health statistics that improves year after year. 300,000 more children are alive this year than last and you can be assured that based on 50 years of research, even more children will be alive next year than in 2013.

Key interventions like immunizations, breastfeeding, family planning, maternal health, fortified foods, and greater access to health care are keeping more children under five and neonates alive. Despite the annual improvement rate of child survival, however, massive, global improvements are slow. In fact, according to UNICEF’s new report, Committing to Child Survival: A Promise Renewed, the global health community is 15 years off target to reach a worldwide reduction of two thirds of child deaths. Progress is happening, but not fast enough. 5000 children under five die each day from the leading causes of child mortality: diarrhea and pneumonia.

Vastly improving child health can be challenging, but there are victories along the way. In fact, Ethiopia (one of the world’s poorest countries) has effectively reduced its child mortality rate by two thirds. How have they done it? They have achieved a reduction of two thirds of child deaths through family planning, immunizations, greater health care and political will. Watch the video from UNICEF that shows Ethiopia’s child survival story.

UNICEF’s new progress report shows the current global state of child survival and mortality rates. What is particularly important to note is neonatal mortality is growing at a quick clip and therefore is becoming a larger percentage of under-five deaths. In fact, according to the report, neonatal deaths now account for 37 percent of all under-five deaths. To combat rising neonatal mortality the global health community has unified to rally behind Every Newborn: An Action Plan to End Preventable Births. Learn more at www.globalnewbornaction.org.

You can also learn more about what you can do to improve child survival rates on UNICEF’s interactive progress report.

Photo: UNFPA/Francine Egberts

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