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Global Death Rate for Children Lower Than Thought

But progress in United States, Canada lagging behind other developed countries, study finds

MONDAY, May 24 (HealthDay News) --The global death rate for children under the age of 5 appears to be significantly lower -- by as much as 800,000 fewer deaths -- than the latest mortality estimates released by UNICEF in 2008.

The fresh numbers gleaned from number-crunching conducted by researchers at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington in Seattle also indicate that many poorer nations are demonstrating faster progress at stemming the tide of under-5 deaths.

The current figures raise some hope for achieving the objectives established by the "Millennium Development Goal 4 (MDG 4)," which is aiming for a two-thirds drop in deaths among children under 5 from 1990 to 2015.

Prior statistical analyses suggested that fewer than a quarter of the world's nations were on track to meet this target. Yet despite some encouraging signs, the current review doesn't paint a much better picture overall, revealing that only 31 developing nations and a total of 54 countries out of 187 worldwide appear to be heading towards the MDG 4 finish line.

That observation comes from the IHME team's look at levels and trends for child deaths in 187 countries for the period 1970 through 2010. The authors relied on the participating country's censuses, surveys, birth records and registration systems for their data.

The researchers found that while 11.9 million children under 5 died across the world in 1990, that figure had dropped to an estimated 7.7 million in 2010.

One-third of such deaths occur in south Asia, they found, while one-half take place in sub-Saharan Africa.

In the three decades since 1970, there has been a 60 percent overall drop in worldwide child mortality rates, the team noted. In the same timeframe, infant deaths in the first 27 days after birth (neonatal period) and in the first 28 days to 12 months of age (postnatal period) dropped by 57 and 62 percent, respectively.

In another positive trend, 1970 saw 40 nations with a death rate above 200 per 1000 live births, but only 12 nations hit that mark by 1990, and none crossed that threshold by 2010. Overall, the fastest rates of decline in childhood mortality appear to be occurring in Latin America and North Africa.

On a less optimistic note, however, the authors found that not all high-income countries -- where child death rates are typically much lower than in poorer nations -- are on equal footing with one another, the IHME analysis finds.

For example, although the UK has experienced a drop in child deaths of 75 percent since 1970, the nation still has the unfortunate distinction of having the highest child mortality rates in all of Western Europe.

And rates of child death have declined by just two to three percent per year in both the U.S. and Canada since 1990 -- a significantly poorer improvement than the three to five percent decline rates experienced in most other high-income countries.

The finding is reported in the May 23 online issue of The Lancet.

More information

For more on child mortality. visit the World Health Organization.

-- Alan Mozes

SOURCE: The Lancet, May 23, 2010, news release.

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