World

Global child deaths reach historic low in 2022, UN report says

The report revealed more children are surviving today than ever before, with the global under-5 mortality rate declining by 51% since 2000.

A baby receives an oral vaccination in Latin America.
UNICEF
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The number of children who died before the age of 5 across the world reached a historic low in 2022, dropping to 4.9 million, according to the latest report from the United Nations Inter-agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation (UN IGME). 

The report revealed more children are surviving today than ever before, with the global under-5 mortality rate declining by 51% since 2000. 

Low and lower-middle-income countries have outperformed the global decline in under-5 mortality, in some cases slashing their rates by more than two-thirds since 2000, the report highlighted. It shows notable progress can be made when strategic action is taken to allocate resources to maternal, newborn and child health.

For example, the findings showed that Cambodia, Mongolia, Uzbekistan and Rwanda have reduced under-5 mortality rates by over 75% since 2000. 

The decline in countries like these seems especially promising since statistically children born into the poorest households or a fragile and conflict-affected setting have a much lower chance of survival than those who aren’t. A child born in sub-Saharan Africa is, on average, 18 times more likely to die before turning 5 than one born in a region of Australia or New Zealand, the report stated. 

However, the report also noted large gaps in data, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia, where the mortality burden is high, and said systems must be improved to better track and monitor child survival and health. 

“Where a child is born should not dictate whether they live or die. It is critical to improve access to quality health services for every woman and child, including during emergencies and in remote areas,” said World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in a statement. 

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UN IGME credits this historic drop in child mortality rates to the sustained commitment of governments, organizations, local communities, health care professionals and families. But it said there is still a long road ahead to end all preventable child and youth deaths. 

Of the 4.9 million lives that were lost before the age of 5, nearly half of them were newborns. The lives of another 2.1 million children and youth ages 5-24 were also cut short. The overwhelming majority of these deaths were concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia, the report said. 

Most of the deaths were from preventable or treatable causes, such as preterm birth, complications around the time of birth, pneumonia, diarrhea and malaria. 

UN IGME said access to health care interventions like vaccinations, availability of skilled health personnel at birth and diagnosis and treatment of childhood illnesses could have been crucial in saving those lives. Part of this requires countries and communities to invest in education, jobs and decent working conditions for health workers.

If current trends continue, the organization said 35 million children under 5 are projected to die by 2030. 

“If proven interventions are fueled by ambition, matched with political commitment, backed by sustained financing and routinely monitored, the annual number of under-five deaths could reach nearly zero,” UN IGME stated.

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