ASEAN KEY DESTINATIONS
Child mortality drops in East Asia-PacificBy David Swartzentruber
The latest global child mortality estimates were released by UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) show great progress in reducing the number of children in Asia and the Pacific who die before their fifth birthday.
According to the new estimates, the total number of under-five deaths decreased in the region from nearly 2.2 million in 1990 to 694,000 in 2010. This is a 68 percent decline in child mortality regionally in 20 years, translating into more than 4,000 fewer children dying each day.
The new estimates were published in the report Levels & Trends in Child Mortality 2011, issued by the UN Inter-agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation (IGME), of which UNICEF and WHO are members.
Despite this positive progress, the new figures highlight a number of critical challenges for Asia-Pacific policy makers in the lead up to 2015 when countries have committed to achieving the Millennium Development Goal of reducing child mortality by two thirds.
“Much of the success in reducing child deaths in the region has been the result of years of investment in national immunization programmes,” said Basil Rodriques, UNICEF’s Young Child Survival & Development Advisor for East Asia and the Pacific. “This has led to the number of vaccine preventable illnesses and deaths decreasing dramatically over the past 20 years, particularly among children aged 2-5 years. But we are now seeing infant and neonatal deaths making up a much higher percentage of child deaths in the region.”
According to the new estimates, 79 percent of child deaths in the region occur in the first year of life, and the vast majority of these children die within a month of being born.
“Tackling this requires different, more systemic, approaches if we are to continue to see progress on child mortality or risk stagnation,” said Rodriques. “It is going to require governments to invest more strategically in healthcare infrastructure and services, especially in rural and remote areas, and to improve the quality and capacity of healthcare personnel.”
Effective health systems are critical in the battle to reduce infant and neonatal deaths. Since a delivery cannot be planned, it requires a much stronger health system to provide these services. The same is true for treating pneumonia and diarrheal diseases, the two biggest killers of children in the region, which again occur randomly and require the availability of round-the-clock health services.
Rapid economic growth has transformed the region into one of the most rapidly developing in the world. While a majority of children have experienced the benefits of this, increasing social and economic disparities have meant that large numbers of children from vulnerable and socially excluded groups - the poor, ethnic minorities, and children in remote and rural areas - remain without adequate healthcare and nutrition.
According to data collected in the region between 2005-2008, level of poverty along with where a child lives in a country are the major factors determining access to health services and chances of survival.
“The growing disparities that exist throughout the region must be addressed to ensure all communities have access to reliable health services and not just those living in well-off urban environments,” said Rodriques. “There is clear evidence of how this divide impacts a child’s chances of survival and speaks directly to the need for countries to increase access to health services in rural areas as a key strategy for meeting the MDG on child mortality,” Rodriques concluded.
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