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India, 4 more countries contributed to half of under-5 deaths in 2019: UNICEF

High levels of child mortality and malnutrition (AP)Premium
High levels of child mortality and malnutrition (AP)

  • About 53% of all under-five deaths in 2019, 2.8 million occurred in sub-Saharan Africa, and roughly 1.5 million children died in 2019 before reaching age 5 in Central and Southern Asia
  • In the pandemic, disruptions to essential maternity and health services could spark the biggest child survival crisis

NEW DELHI : India is among five countries of the world that contributed to nearly half of all under-five deaths occurred in 2019, according to a report released by UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO), the Population Division of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs and the World Bank Group on Wednesday.

The report titled--the Levels & Trends in Child Mortality Estimates developed by the UN Inter-agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation stated that about 49% of the all under-five deaths occurred in 2019 were in just five countries: Nigeria, India, Pakistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Ethiopia. Nigeria and India alone account for almost a third, the report added.

According to the report, the global burden of under-five deaths weighs most heavily on just two regions. About 53% of all under-five deaths in 2019, 2.8 million occurred in sub-Saharan Africa, and roughly 1.5 million children died in 2019 before reaching age 5 in Central and Southern Asia.

These two regions alone accounted for more than 80% of the 5.2 million global under-five deaths in 2019, but they only accounted for 52% of the global under-five population, the report said.

The report highlighted that 7.4 million children, adolescents and youth under 25 years died, mostly from preventable or treatable causes. And, 70% of these deaths – 5.2 million – occurred among children under age 5, and nearly half of these – 2.4 million – occurred in the first month of life. About 2.2 million deaths occurred among older children and young people aged 5−24 years, with 43% (1 million) occurring during the adolescent period, ages 10-19. Children aged 5–9 accounted for 0.5 million and youth aged 20–24 accounted for 0.8 million, the report said.

On current trends, the report said, close to 23 million 5-to-24-year-olds and 48 million children under 5 years of age will die between 2020 and 2030. Almost half of these under-five deaths will be newborns. Nearly 40% of the global under-five deaths occurred in countries suffering humanitarian crises.

“If current trends continue, 53 countries will not be able to meet the under-five mortality Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) target (at least as low as 25 deaths per 1,000 live births) and more than 60 countries are falling behind in achieving the neonatal mortality target (at least as low as 12 deaths per 1,000 live births) to end preventable child deaths by 2030," the report said adding if all countries were to meet the SDG under-five mortality target, 11 million deaths would be averted from 2020 to 2030.

As the world struggles to respond to the covid-19 pandemic, disruptions to essential maternity and health services could spark the biggest child survival crisis since the Second World War. Already fragile health systems are growing weaker and are struggling to respond to covid-19 at the same time as delivering essential and life-saving health services. The WHO has said that there is a high risk that the covid-19 pandemic may reverse decades long progress on reducing child mortality.

“Lack of access to and use of essential health services for pregnant women and newborns during the pandemic, including antenatal care visits, vaccination against preventable diseases, and sick and well check-ups, may reverse progress toward improved survival for pregnant women, newborns and children," the WHO said.

Initial estimates suggest substantial reductions in the coverage of life-saving interventions and increases in undernutrition resulting in wasting could result in more than one million additional under-five deaths in only six months.

“When children are denied access to health services because the system is overrun, and when women are afraid to give birth at the hospital for fear of infection, they, too, may become casualties of covid-19. Without urgent investments to re-start disrupted health systems and services, millions of children under five, especially newborns, could die," said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director.

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