Health

Surviving childhood in Africa

  • 16 September 2014
  • From the section Health

In September 2000, world leaders signed up to a set of eight Millennium Development Goals (MDG). Each goal focused on helping improve the lives of children around the world, in areas including health, education and opportunity.

Key among these was the aim to reduce the number of children in developing countries who died before their fifth birthday. Mahimbo Mdoe, of UN child agency Unicef, explains how countries have tackled this problem, and the success of Malawi in hitting its target.

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Progress has been made, but preventable deaths still occur

Significant progress has been made in cutting child mortality, which is falling faster globally than at any point in the past two decades, according to Unicef. But despite that, more than six million children die every year before the age of five, mostly from preventable causes.

Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest under-five mortality in the world, nearly 15 times the average of developed world regions.

Using 1990 rates as a starting point, the MDG aim has been to cut deaths by two-thirds by the end of 2015. Malawi is one of the few countries in the region to have already reached the target.

Difficult first hours - the neonatal period

The first four weeks following birth - and in particular the first few hours - are the most perilous. Although deaths in this neonatal period have fallen, it has been at a slower rate than for older age groups. As a result, it accounts for an increasing proportion of deaths among the under-fives. In 2013, 2.8 million babies died within 28 days of birth.

When will the UN's target be met?

Between 1990 and 2013, 223 million children worldwide died before their fifth birthday - equivalent to more than the entire population of Brazil. At current rates, the MDG goal of a two-thirds reduction in child mortality will not be achieved before 2026.

Graphic showing the fall in child mortality from 1990-2013

What are the main causes of death?

Deaths in the first month after birth account for 44% of all under-five deaths. Nearly 60% of these neonatal deaths are caused by preterm complications and problems during labour and delivery.

Graphic showing the main causes of death for the under fives

Written by Fergus Walsh. Produced by Richard Bangay, Steven Connor, Nick Davey, Annie Duncanson, Emily Maguire, Ransome Mpini, Paul Sargeant, Charlotte Thornton and John Walton.

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