Preventable child deaths dropping, but 7 million still die each year before fifth birthday

Published: Wednesday, July 4 2012 11:52 p.m. MDT

The number of preventable deaths among young children fell to 7 million in 2010, according to a new report by UNICEF. Roughly 20,000 children are still dying each day, but experts expect that number to continue to fall rapidly as millions more are saved by basic, inexpensive items now being brought to the fight.

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Faced with an epidemic of little children dying preventable deaths — 12.4 million in 1990 — charities, governments and other organizations dug in to provide solutions.

The solutions are working. The number of preventable deaths among young children fell to 7 million in 2010, according to a new report by UNICEF. Roughly 20,000 children are still dying each day, but experts expect that number to continue to fall rapidly as millions more are saved by basic, inexpensive items now being brought to the fight.

One by one, Rajiv Shah pulled some of those items from a common backpack during a recent interview with MSNBC — the new rotavirus vaccine for diarrhea and pneumonia, a beta-carotene-rich orange-flesh sweet potato, zinc tablets, a bed net and a bag mask used to help babies breathe.

Together, they cost less than dinner for two and a movie.

"I wanted to illustrate that most of what it takes to save these kids' lives costs less than $30 and fits inside this backpack," said Shah, director of the U.S. Agency for International Development. "If we can get these basic items, new technologies through new partnerships with the private sector, with faith-based institutions, to millions of kids who don't have them, we think we can literally end preventable child death."

"In the United States, the number of deaths among children under age 5 is about six or seven per 1,000 live births. In Somalia and Mali, in contrast, the rates are 180 and 178 per 1,000 births, respectively," the Los Angeles Times reported.

"Global efforts to save the lives of women, newborn babies and young children are not moving fast enough," said Mickey Chopra, chief health officer of UNICEF and co-chair of the Countdown to 2015 initiative, in the UNICEF news release.

The Countdown to 2015 report exhibits an increase in funding from official aid sources, though the economic downturn has negatively affected such funding, according to Medicalxpress.

"President Obama has emphasized the need to reduce child mortality rates, and USAID has attempted to raise the profile of the issue by enlisting celebrities (Kim Kardashian and Mandy Moore) and politicians (former president Bill Clinton) to submit childhood photos for an online project campaign called Every Child Deserves a 5th Birthday," reports Aamer Madhani in a USA Today article.

The idea behind this project is to pool global resources and foster collaborative efforts in order to end preventable child deaths worldwide. In addition to creating awareness through online ads, Every Child Deserves a 5th Birthday has a website on which individuals are encouraged to post a photo from their fifth birthday or at age 5 and become actively involved in helping the cause. 

Organizations such as NIKA and Water Without Borders are also working to create awareness to support clean water projects for poverty-stricken areas around the world.

UNICEF, too, is an active participant in this call for action. In existence for 60 years, the program has seen a 50 percent reduction in under-5 mortality between 1960 and 2002. It has found that vitamin A supplementation can save more than a quarter-million lives a year; oral rehydration therapy can prevent 1 million deaths, and immunization programs can protect the lives of nearly 4 million children. The organization continues to implement several solutions that have proven to be effective in combating the problem of child mortality.

Some of its efforts include providing high-impact health and nutrition interventions, improving family care practices, increasing access to improved water and sanitation and responding rapidly to emergencies. 
By providing supplies, personnel and assistance with facilities and sanitation, UNICEF also helps get children back to school, which supports a number of separate goals. In addition to being registered and accounted for and supervised by adults, children can also access health care, food and sanitation resources at a school.

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