LONDON (Reuters) - The number of children who die before reaching their fifth birthday has fallen by a third since 1990, the United Nations said on Friday, but the decline is still way off a globally agreed target to be met by 2015.
Data from the United Nation’s children’s fund UNICEF showed the total number of under-five deaths decreased to 8.1 million per year in 2009 from 12.4 million per year in 1990.
The United Nations Millennium Development Goal 4 (MDG 4) calls for a two-thirds reduction in the mortality rate among children under five between 1990 and 2015.
According to UNICEF’s figures, which were published in a special edition of The Lancet medical journal, the global under-five mortality rate has dropped by a third since 1990, from 89 deaths per 1,000 births to 60 in 2009.
“The good news is that these estimates suggest 12,000 fewer children are dying each day around the world compared to 1990,” UNICEF said in a statement.
“However the tragedy of preventable child deaths continues. Some 22,000 children under five still die each day, with some 70 percent of these deaths occurring in the first year of the child’s life.”
World leaders are due to meet in New York next week to take stock of the Millennium Development Goals, which were agreed a decade ago and aimed at drastically reducing poverty and hunger.
According to a recent World Bank report, one of the major goals — halving global poverty by 2015 — is likely to be met but there has been far less progress toward meeting the goals of reducing hunger and malnutrition, improving gender equality, access to health care and education and helping mothers and their babies.
The UNICEF figures showed that child deaths are increasingly concentrated in just a handful of countries. About half of global under-five deaths in 2009 occurred in India, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Pakistan and China.
The highest rates of child mortality were in sub-Saharan Africa, where 1 in 8 children dies before their fifth birthday — nearly 20 times the average for developed regions.
Southern Asia has the second highest rates, with about 1 in 14 children dying before the age of five.
According to a summary of the findings in The Lancet, countries that made the most progress did so because of rapid expansion of basic public health and nutrition services such as immunizations, breastfeeding, vitamin A supplementation and provision of safe drinking water.
But coverage of measures to stop diarrhea and malaria — which cause more than half of the under-five deaths in sub-Saharan Africa — remain low.
Editing by Charles Dick