Child Mortality Rates Declining Worldwide

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United Methodist Communications
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May 24, 2010

Seattle, Wash.: A new study from theInstitute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington published today in The Lancet medical journal reports that the number of deaths of children under age five decreased from 16 million in 1970 to 11.9 million deaths in 1990 to 7.7 million deaths in 2010.

The study examined the decline in death rates of children under five in 187 countries from 1970 to 2010 using data from all available sources. Improvement in the under-five mortality rate was shown in all regions of the world.

In 13 regions, including all of sub-Saharan Africa, evidence shows the decline in under-five death rates accelerated from 2000 to 2010 compared to the previous decade. According to the report, acceleration is significant because it could be an early indicator of policy or program success.

The report says that the increased delivery of known effective interventions such as provision of insecticide-treated nets, immunizations, prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission, or antiretroviral drugs could be contributing to the accelerated decline in mortality, although the report provides no direct evidence of the relationship.

Dr. Cherian Thomas, Assistant General Secretary for theUnited Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), said that working with United Methodist clinics and hospitals and community-based programs to reduce under-five mortality and maternal mortalityis a major focus for UMCOR. Thomas said that one factor contributing to the decline may be that mothers are getting better care during pregnancy, births are more often handled by skilled health care workers, and hospitals and clinics may be more accessible.

"The second factor is definitely the availability of bed nets and the treatment of malaria," Thomas said. "Other causes may be more effective treatment of pneumonia and diarrhea."

Thomas cites a project in Nimba County in Liberia as an example of what can be achieved through effective interventions. "We have been able to reduce the under-five mortality and maternal mortality rates markedly through a combination of immunizations, giving vitamin A, providing bed nets, health education for mothers, and making care more accessible," Thomas said.

Worldwide, deaths of children under five have fallen more than 52 percent since 1970. The United Nations has set a goal of reducing death rates of children under age five by two-thirds from 1990 to 2015.

"This is encouraging news. It shows that we've made more substantial progress in reducing child deaths than previously thought," said Bishop Thomas Bickerton, chairman of the United Methodist Global Health Initiative. "This report is a signal that we must continue to work hard as a partner in achieving the Millennium Development Goal of eradicating malaria by 2015."

Intensifying the Fight Against Malaria, published by The World Bank's Booster Program for Malaria Control in Africa, says that malaria is the only major disease for which major reductions in morbidity and mortality are possible within the next five years.

According to UNICEF, using insecticide-treated nets is the most effective way to reduce deaths in children under age five, contributing more than 50 percent of the impact of mortality reduction. The Nothing But Nets initiative, in which the people of The United Methodist Church are founding partners, has distributed nets in more than 20 countries so far: Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad, Congo-Brazzaville, Gabon, Mali, Cote d'Ivoire, Cameroon, Zambia, Central African Republic, Mozambique, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Sudan, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea, Burundi, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Djibouti.

The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria reports that malaria interventions are proving effective in countries like Rwanda, where child malaria deaths declined by 66 percent following the distribution of more than 2.4 insecticide treated bed nets and the nationwide introduction of effective antimalarial drugs. In Burundi, the incidence of malaria declined by 45 percent from 2000 to 2005 following the rollout of antimalarial drugs at the national level, the provision of antimalaria treatment to almost four million patients and the distribution of more than a million nets.

"Scaling up our efforts to prevent malaria could have a substantial impact on the number of children who are able to celebrate their fifth birthday," said Bickerton. "These statistics show that the global movement to reduce malaria is meeting with success. As a part of this movement, United Methodists are making a difference. Through Imagine No Malaria, we hope to raise $75 million to help defeat this disease in the next five years."

Media contact:
Diane Degnan
[email protected]
615-742-5406 (w)
615-483-1765 (c)

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