(Formerly called IRIN) Journalism from the heart of crises

Six million children "need not die every year"

Children having fortified food in a kindergarten in northern Turkmenistan.
UNICEF/Giacomo Pirozzi

More than six million children could be saved from death every year if funding were increased to improve community-level health services in the developing world, where 99 percent of child deaths occur, according to a report by Save the Children-USA.

"One in every six children in sub-Saharan Africa still dies before age five," William Frist, the chairman of Save the Children's "Survive to 5 Campaign", stated in his forward to the report published on 6 May. "In some countries, parents don't name a child during the first six weeks of life because they fear the baby will not survive even its earliest days."

Save the Children published the report, State of the World's Mothers, to mark Mother's Day on 11 May. It ranks 55 developing countries on their effectiveness in reaching the poorest children with life-saving measures.

The report focuses on 200 million children under five, who do not get basic healthcare, according to Save the Children. It shows which countries are doing the best, and which are worst in reaching children with basic health measures.

"I believe medicine can serve as a currency for peace," Frist said. "I've seen those who once took up arms against one another unify and lay down their weapons to build health clinics. I've seen medicine inject hope where once there was only despair."

Charles MacCormack, president and chief executive officer of Save the Children, said in an introductory note that while child mortality rates in the developing world had declined in recent decades, "it is of no solace to the 26,000 mothers who must mourn the loss of a child each and every day".

Four fronts

To address the global challenge of saving the lives of mothers and children, MacCormack said, Save the Children was working on four fronts: increasing awareness of the challenges and solutions to maternal, newborn and child survival; encouraging action by mobilising the world to support programmes aimed at reducing infant and maternal mortality; working with national health ministries and local organisations to deliver high-quality health services throughout the developing world; and leading the way in research on what works best to save the lives of babies.

''While child mortality rates in the developing world have declined, it is of no solace to the 26,000 mothers who must mourn the loss of a child each and every day''

"We count on the world's leaders to take stock of how mothers and children are faring in every country," he said. "Investing in this most basic partnership of all - between a mother and her child - is the first and best step in ensuring healthy children, prosperous families and strong communities."

According to the report's Basic Health Care Report Card, all 55 developing countries ranked together account for nearly 60 percent of the world's under-five population and 83 percent of all child deaths worldwide.

Eight of the 55 countries reach 60 percent or more children under five with basic healthcare. The Philippines was ranked top while Ethiopia came last.

The ranking also looked at child survival rates in 52 of these countries among children who are better off and those who are very poor.

"A child's chances of celebrating a fifth birthday should not largely depend on the country or community where he or she is born," MacCormack said. "We need to do a better job of reaching the poorest children with basic health measures like vaccines, antibiotics and skilled care at childbirth. These simple measures, while taken for granted in the United States, are not reaching millions of children under age five, and can determine whether a child survives or dies in poor countries and communities.”

The report recommends designing healthcare programmes to better target the poorest and most marginalised mothers and children; investing in community health workers to reach the poorest of the poor with essential life-saving care, and delivering a basic package of maternal, newborn and child healthcare that takes into account the realities for poor people in developing countries.


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