The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) said Friday that worldwide the number of children who die before the age of five has declined by 27% over the last two decades, and the rate is expected to continue falling.
However, this trend can not be applied to South Africa, whose under-5 mortality rate has shown a remarkable increase in recent years.
According to UNICEF statistics, in 1990 60 out of every 1 000 South African children died before the age of 5 years. The most recent statistics (2006) shows that this rate has increased to 69 out of 1 000 South African children.
Global decline of 60%
According to new UNICEF figures, there were 68 deaths per 1 000 live births around the world in 2007 compared with 93 deaths per 1 000 live births in 1990. That means there were 9.2 million child deaths in 2007, a decline from 12.7 million in 1990.
"Since 1960, the global under-five mortality rate has declined more than 60%, and the new data shows that downward trend continues," UNICEF Executive Director Ann Veneman said in a statement.
But she said "much remains to be done," especially in Africa, which still has the highest mortality rates in the world.
High food prices a threat
Save the Children UK Chief Executive Jasmine Whitbread said the figures are good news, but warned that high food prices and climate change could reverse the gains.
UNICEF said poor nutrition is a contributing cause to more than one-third of the 9.2 million under-five deaths, and an estimated 148 million children in the developing world remain undernourished. It called for accelerated efforts to address the nutritional needs of women, infants and children.
In Sierra Leone, which has the highest child mortality rate in the world, 262 out of every 1 000 children die before their fifth birthday, the agency said.
By contrast, it said, in industrialized countries there are, on average, just 6 deaths for every 1 000 live births.
UNICEF cited "particularly good progress" in reducing child mortality in Laos, Bangladesh, Bolivia and Nepal.
These countries are on target to reach the UN Millennium
Development Goal of reducing the under-five child mortality rate by two-thirds between 1990 and 2015, UNICEF said.
Progress in some African countries
It also cited "significant progress" in some African countries including Eritrea, Malawi, Mozambique, Niger and Ethiopia.
"Recent data also indicate encouraging improvements in many of the basic health interventions, such as early and exclusive breast feeding, measles immunization, vitamin A supplementation, the use of insecticide-treated nets to prevent malaria, and prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS," UNICEF's Veneman said.
"These interventions are expected to result in further declines in child mortality over the coming years," she said. – (Sapa)
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