Dungarpur District, Rajasthan, India, 22 Dec 2020. Photo © Sri Kolari

A Child or Youth Died once every 4.4 Seconds in 2021: UN

ADDIS ABABA – An estimated 5 million children died before their fifth birthday and another 2.1 million children and youth aged between 5–24 years lost their lives in 2021, says a UN Inter-agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation (UN IGME) report today.

In a separate report also released on the same day, the Unicef-led group also found that 1.9 million babies were stillborn during the same period.

Tragically, many of these deaths could have been prevented with equitable access and high-quality maternal, newborn, adolescent, and child health care.

“Every day, far too many parents are facing the trauma of losing their children, sometimes even before their first breath,” said Vidhya Ganesh, a Data Analytics division director at Unicef.

“Such widespread, preventable tragedy should never be accepted as inevitable. Progress is possible with stronger political will and targeted investment in equitable access to primary health care for every woman and child.”

Agencies issue warnings’

Positive outcomes with a lower risk of death across all ages have already been registered globally since 2000, the two reports – Levels & Trends in Child Mortality and Never Forgotten – show.

The under-five mortality rate fell by 50% since the start of the century, while mortality rates in older children and youth dropped by 36%, and the stillbirth rate decreased by 35%.

This can be attributed to more investments in strengthening primary health systems to benefit women, children, and young people.

The gains, however, have reduced significantly since 2010, and 54 countries will fall short of meeting the Sustainable Development Goals target for under-five mortality, according to the estimates,

If swift action is not taken to improve health services, almost 59 million children and youth will die before 2030, and nearly 16 million babies will be lost to stillbirth, warn the agencies.

‘Many denied basic rights to health’

Children continue to face wildly differentiating chances of survival based on where they are born, with sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia shouldering the heaviest burden, the reports show.

Though sub-Saharan Africa had just 29% of global live births, the region accounted for 56% of all under-five deaths in 2021, and Southern Asia for 26% of the total.

Mothers in these two regions also endure the painful loss of babies to stillbirth at an exceptional rate, with 77% of all stillbirths in 2021 occurring in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

“Behind these numbers are millions of children and families who are denied their basic rights to health,” said Juan Pablo Uribe, Global Director for Health at World Bank. “We need political will and leadership for sustained financing for primary health care which is one of the best investments countries and development partners can make.”