Global child mortality rate reduced to half, yet 1 die every 11 seconds: WHO

Women and newborns are most vulnerable during and immediately after childbirth. An estimated 2.8 million pregnant women and newborns die every year, or 1 every 11 seconds, mostly of preventable causes

Photo Courtesy: WHO
Photo Courtesy: WHO

Amir Malik

From 14.2 million deaths of children under 15 years in 1990 to 6.2 million in 2018, the world has progressed and reduced deaths by 56% yet one death occur every 11 second, said data release by World Health Organisation (WHO).

“Around the world, birth is a joyous occasion. Yet, every 11 seconds, a birth is a family tragedy,” Henrietta Fore, United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director.

The release also said that over 290000 women died in 2017 due to complications during pregnancy and childbirth. And of the total child deaths, 5.3 million occurred in the first 5 years, with almost half of these in the first month of life.

Women and newborns are most vulnerable during and immediately after childbirth. An estimated 2.8 million pregnant women and newborns die every year, or 1 every 11 seconds, mostly of preventable causes, the estimates said.

“Hundreds of thousands of women continue to die each year from preventable causes. This is unacceptable. It's time to pick up the pace — to save women's lives,” said Dr Natalia Kanem, Executive Director of United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA).

Why deaths: Children face the highest risk of dying in the first month, especially if they are born too soon or too small, have complications during birth, congenital defects, or contract infections. About a third of these deaths occur within the first day and nearly three quarters in the first week alone.

“A skilled pair of hands to help mothers and newborns around the time of birth, along with clean water, adequate nutrition, basic medicines and vaccines, can make the difference between life and death,” said Henrietta.

For children who survive the first month, infectious diseases such as pneumonia, diarrhoea and malaria account for the most deaths globally. In older children, injuries, including road traffic injuries and drowning become important causes of death and disability.

Maternal deaths are caused by obstetric complications such as high blood pressure during pregnancy and severe bleeding or infections during or after childbirth; and increasingly due to an existing disease or condition aggravated by the effects of pregnancy.

Worldwide inequalities: The estimates also show vast inequalities worldwide, with women and children in sub-Saharan Africa facing a substantially higher risk of death than in all other regions.

Levels of maternal deaths are nearly 50 times higher for women in sub-Saharan Africa and their babies are 10 times more likely to die in their first month of life, compared to high-income countries.

In 2018, 1 in 13 children in sub-Saharan Africa died before their fifth birthday, fifteen times higher than the risk a child faces in Europe, where 1 in 196 children aged less than 5 die, the release said.

The WHO release also said that 1 in 37 women in sub-Saharan Africa as compared to 1 in 6500 women in Europe face lifetime risk of dying during pregnancy or childbirth.

It said that Sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia account for around 80% of global maternal and child deaths. The release added that countries in conflict often do not have access to hospitals which prevents women and children from accessing essential lifesaving care.

From 2000 to 2017, the maternal mortality ratio declined by 38%. Southern Asia has made the greatest improvements in maternal survival with a nearly 60% reduction in the maternal mortality ratio since 2000. Countries in Eastern and South-Eastern Asia have made the most progress, with an 80% decline in under-five deaths.

“Though progress has been made in reducing both child and maternal mortality, it's also clear that stark inequities persist based on geography, gender, and ethnicity,” said Muhammad Ali Pate, Global Director for Health, Nutrition and Population at the World Bank.

Climate change hit children: Climate change and migration are further threats to children’s life. In 2017 approximately 300 million children were living in areas with the most toxic levels of outdoor air pollution and it contributes to the deaths of around 600,000 children under the age of 5.

“Climate change has the potential to undermine availability of basic rights to children. There is perhaps no greater threat facing the rights of the next generation of children,” said Henrietta in an open letter to children.

“At least 30 million children have moved across borders and take perilous journeys across deserts, oceans and armed borders, encountering violence, abuse and exploitation on the way,” she said.

“We must do all it takes to save these precious lives,” added Henrietta.

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Published: 20 Sep 2019, 4:34 PM