Global child deaths have reached a record low, falling below 10 million per year to 9.7 million, down from almost 13 million in 1990, according to UNICEF.
"This is an historic moment," said UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman. "Now we must build on this public health success to push for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals."
Among these goals, which range from halving extreme poverty to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS, is a commitment to a two-thirds reduction in child mortality between 1990 and 2015, a result which would save an additional 5.4 million children by 2015.
However, Veneman pointed out that there is no room for complacency.
"The loss of 9.7 million young lives each year is unacceptable. Most of these deaths are preventable and, as recent progress shows, the solutions are tried and tested. We know that lives can be saved when children have access to integrated, community-based health services."
Twenty-five years ago, UNICEF envisioned and launched its "Child Survival and Development Revolution" aimed at sharply reducing childhood death, disease and disability in the developing world. UNICEF insisted that simple, low cost interventions such as immunization, exclusive breastfeeding and growth monitoring, when taken to mass scale, could yield dramatic gains for child survival.
This first-of-its-kind effort was highly controversial within and outside of the organization. Critics argued it was naive, impossible and too simplistic. UNICEF pushed ahead, enlisting the support of hundreds of NGOs, individuals, governments and others in the "revolution."
As a result of these partnerships and years of quiet effort, children today are more than twice as likely to survive past the age of five than they were forty years ago.
"Thanks in large part to many outstanding partnerships and the extraordinary compassion and support of the American public, more children are surviving today than ever before," said U.S. Fund for UNICEF President and CEO Caryl M. Stern. "UNICEF's relentless focus on saving children's lives will continue until we reach the day when no mother has to grieve the loss of her baby to malaria, diarrhea, measles, or pneumonia."
The new figures are drawn from a range of national data sources, including two sets of household surveys, the Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS) and the Demographic Household Surveys (DHS). The current round of MICS surveys was conducted in over 50 countries in 2005-06 and, together with the USAID- supported Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS), are the largest single source of information of the Millennium Development Goals and form the basis of the assessment of progress in child survival.
Their findings reinforce reports of progress released earlier this year on measles mortality, with a 60 per cent fall in measles deaths since 1999, and a 75 per cent reduction in sub-Saharan Africa.
Rapid declines in under-five mortality have been seen in Latin America and the Caribbean, Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CEE/CIS) and East Asia and the Pacific. A number of countries have made particularly dramatic progress since the previous surveys of 1999-2000, with Morocco, Vietnam and the Dominican Republic reducing their under-five mortality rates by more than one-third.
Madagascar has cut its rate by 41 per cent, while Sao Tome and Principe has seen its rate fall by 48 per cent. Of the 9.7 million children who perish each year, 3.1 million are from South Asia, and 4.8 million are from Sub-Saharan Africa. In the developing
world, child mortality is considerably higher among children living in rural areas and in the poorest households.
In developed countries there are just six deaths for every 1,000 live births. The Latin American and Caribbean region is on track to achieve the child mortality Millennium Development Goal, with 27 deaths on average for every 1,000 live births, compared to 55 per thousand in 1990.
There has been significant progress in parts of Sub-Saharan Africa. Under- five mortality has declined 29 per cent between 2000 and 2004 in Malawi. In Ethiopia, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Rwanda and Tanzania child mortality rates have declined by more than 20 per cent.
The highest rates of child mortality are still found in West and Central African countries. In southern Africa hard-won gains in child survival have been undermined by the spread of HIV and AIDS.
"The new figures show that progress is possible if we act with renewed urgency to scale-up interventions that have proven successful," said Veneman. "There is a clear need for action on child survival in Africa and beyond."
Added Stern, "We ask our committed public to continue supporting our work - while today's news marks hard won progress, some 26,000 children will still die needlessly today and tomorrow." The organization, she continued, "has proven that with resources, partners, and steadfast focus we can and we will reach the day when every child, no matter where they are born, will live to lead a healthy, happy and productive life."
Between now and the end of 2007, a number of important new statistics will be released charting progress towards the achievement of the MDGs.
Under-5 child mortality estimates are produced at the global level by the Inter-agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation, which includes UNICEF, WHO, The World Bank, the UN Population Division, Harvard University and others.
How UNICEF Makes a Little Money Go a Long Way:
-- 4 cents can protect and boost one child's immune system with vitamin A capsules
-- 6 cents can buy one packet of oral rehydration salts for one child to treat severe dehydration and diarrhea, a leading cause of death among young children
-- $1 can buy 40 liters of safe drinking water, which is enough to give one child safe drinking water for 40 days, or forty children safe drinking water for one day
-- $5 can provide a box of 100 disposable syringes for use during immunization campaigns
-- $17 can immunize one child for life against six deadly diseases
-- $100 can provide 10 families with insecticide-treated bed nets to protect them from malaria