48-million lives saved, millions more to go

Breastfeeding, which has many well-documented benefits, including lower rates of diarrhoea and pneumonia, is also vital. (Unicef)

Breastfeeding, which has many well-documented benefits, including lower rates of diarrhoea and pneumonia, is also vital. (Unicef)

FIFTH COLUMN

Over the past 15 years, declining child mortality has meant that the lives of 48-million children under the age of five have been saved.

It’s worth stopping and thinking about what that statistic really means: 48-million babies, bringing joy to their parents and family, filling the world with love and laughter.

This progress has also spared millions of parents the tears and heartbreak of losing a child, while strengthening families, communities and the fabric of society.

Africa has seen the sharpest falls in child mortality. Sub-Saharan Africa has made the biggest gains: between 2000 and 2015, 21 countries reversed an increasing mortality trend or at least tripled their rate of progress compared to the 1990s.

How has such remarkable progress been achieved?

Fortunately, we know – more children are surviving their first days of life thanks with simple interventions. Antenatal visits and having a skilled attendant at birth are critical for healthy pregnancies, safe deliveries and newborns’ survival. Breastfeeding, which has many well-documented benefits, including lower rates of diarrhoea and pneumonia, is also vital. Postnatal check-ups for babies and women who have recently given birth are the best way to address complications.

The more widespread use of vaccines, better nutrition and improvements in drinking water quality have also contributed to the decline in child mortality. So has the early use of antiretroviral treatment for pregnant women with HIV, which has helped to halve the rate of mother-to-child transmission of the virus.

But even with this progress, too many babies and children continue to die from preventable causes. An astonishing 16 000 children under the age of five die every day. That means 11 babies, toddlers or young children die every minute.

Most of these deaths are caused by diseases that are readily preventable or treatable with proven, cost-effective interventions. High rates of child mortality are more common in poor or unstable countries that suffer from serious inequities.

All of us can play a role in ensuring that these deaths become a thing of the past. The new sustainable development goals, launched last week in New York, will seek to accelerate the progress the world has made on child mortality. The final results of the SDGs will not be tallied for another 15 years. However, the decisions that are made now, at the outset, will determine whether these ambitious targets are achieved.

To make sure we meet these targets the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-Moon, last week launched the Every Woman Every Child updated global strategy for women’s, children’s and adolescents’ health, which seeks to end preventable deaths.

Previous declines in child mortality show us what is possible. With a collective effort and determination, we can help save the lives of millions more and avoid the grief that comes with losing a child.

  Angélique Kidjo is an award-winning singer and goodwill ambassador for the UN Children’s Fund

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