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

Published: Wednesday, July 29 2015 12:50 a.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. (Shutterstock.com) 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. (Shutterstock.com)

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.

Ghana recently became the first African country to introduce pneumococcal and rotavirus vaccines, with the help of the Gavi Alliance organization and others, and its leaders are actively addressing pneumonia and diarrhea, the two biggest childhood killers, according to an article published on the Gavi Alliance website.

"Globally, pneumonia and severe infant diarrhea together take the lives of more than 2.7 million children under the age of 5 each year," the article reports. "In Ghana, these killer diseases together account for approximately 20 percent of the country’s under-5 child mortality."

Worldwide, the GAVI Alliance’s support for pneumococcal vaccines could prevent more than 7 million deaths by 2030. By the same date, GAVI’s support for rotavirus vaccines could save an additional 2.4 million child deaths, according to the article.

“Our children have been dying from these vaccine-preventable diseases for too long, but this moment begins a major fight back,” said Health Minister Hon. Alban S. K. Bagbin in the article. “With these vaccines, we want to, and we will, achieve MDG4, the two-thirds reduction of our child mortality by 2015.”

World leaders recently gathered at the Child Survival Call to Action Forum, wrote Caryl Stern, UNICEF USA president and CEO, on her blog.
 "This effort will generate tremendous momentum for what we care about most."

"Thanks to the Child Survival forum," she went on to write, "We’re getting a lot more company in our fight. A remarkable coalition of governments, the private sector and civil society groups will be committing to more resources, more collaboration and more accountability. It’s a historic undertaking, with an audacious goal — but there is no doubt it can be achieved. We have incredible tools, like new vaccines against pneumonia, diarrhea and other major child killers. We have affordable, battle-tested strategies. And we have an unbeatable supply chain and a strong network of partners all over the world."

Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company