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Despite dramatic progress on child survival, one million children die during their first day of life from mostly preventable causes

2014-09-16
  • At current rate of progress, global goal to prevent child deaths won't be reached until 2026 – 11 years off track 
  • Canada's leadership on child and maternal health at next week's UN General Assembly must rally global support for life-saving measures as 2015 promises run out

TORONTO, September 16, 2014 - Child survival rates have increased dramatically since 1990, during which time the number of annual under-five deaths has been slashed in half from 12.7 million to 6.3 million, according to Committing to Child Survival: A Promise Renewed progress report released today by UNICEF. However, if trends continue, the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) to reduce child mortality by two thirds by 2015 will be tragically off track by 11 years.

"The accelerated progress on saving the lives of children and mothers has proven that with strong global leadership, effective programming and a shared belief that all children should survive to see their fifth birthday, major strides can be made," says David Morley, UNICEF Canada President and CEO. "But millions of children's lives still hang in the balance."

"Next week Prime Minister Harper will address the UN General Assembly. This is an important opportunity to maintain Canada's leadership on child and maternal health and rally global leaders to commit to funding beyond 2015. Canada's recent commitment of $3.5 billion should act as a catalyst for other countries, businesses, foundations and NGOs to ante up to save children's lives."

"It's unimaginable that one million babies take their first and last breath on the day they are born. Today's new numbers further underline how important it is to reach mothers and babies during the critical time around delivery in order to prevent this senseless tragedy."

Committing to Child Survival: A Promise Renewed progress report key findings and statistics:

  • Sub-Saharan Africa continues to shoulder the greatest burden: one in 11 children born there dies before the age of five.
  • The first 28 days of a newborn's life are the most vulnerable with almost 2.8 million babies dying each year during this period. One million of them do not live to see their second day of life. Many of these deaths could be easily prevented with simple, cost-effective interventions. 
  • Complications during labour and delivery are responsible for around one quarter of all neonatal deaths worldwide. 
  • Approximately half of all women do not receive the recommended minimum of four antenatal care visits during their pregnancy.
  • Evidence shows that initiating breastfeeding within one hour of birth reduces the risk of neonatal death by 44 per cent, yet less than half of all newborns worldwide are breastfed immediately. 
  • Those countries with some of the highest numbers of annual neonatal deaths also have a low coverage of postnatal care for mothers: Ethiopia (84,000 deaths; 7 per cent coverage); Bangladesh (77,000; 27 per cent); Nigeria (262,000; 38 per cent); Kenya (40,000; 42 per cent).

Mothers' education levels continue to have a significant bearing on the chances of baby's survival with neonatal mortality rates among mothers with no education being nearly twice as high as for those with secondary schooling and above.

Inequality, particularly in health care access, remains high in the least developed countries: women from the richest households are almost three times as likely as those from the poorest to deliver their baby with a skilled birth attendant. Despite this, the report suggests that the equity gap in under-five child mortality is steadily reducing. In every region, except sub-Saharan Africa, the proportion of under-five mortality among the poorest sections of society is declining faster than in the richest. More significantly, worldwide, the poor are registering greater absolute gains in child survival than their wealthier compatriots.

"It is deeply heartening that the equity gap in child survival is continuing to narrow," says Geeta Rao Gupta, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director. "We need to harness this momentum and use it to drive forward programs that focus resources on the poorest and marginalized households; a strategy which has the potential to save the largest number of children's lives."

Note to editors:

For photo and video resources, visit UNICEF's Child Survival resources

About A Promise Renewed

A Promise Renewed is a global movement that seeks to advance Every Woman Every Child – a strategy launched by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to mobilize and intensify global action to improve the health of women and children around – through action and advocacy to accelerate reductions in preventable maternal, newborn and child deaths.

The movement emerged from the Child Survival Call to Action convened in June 2012 by the Governments of Ethiopia, India and the United States, in collaboration with UNICEF, to examine ways to spur progress on child survival. It is based on the ethos that child survival is a shared responsibility and everyone – governments, civil society, the private sector and individuals – has a vital contribution to make.

Since June 2012, 178 governments and many civil society organizations, private sector organizations and individuals have signed a pledge to redouble their efforts, and are turning these commitments into action and advocacy. More details on A Promise Renewed are available at www.apromiserenewed.org.

This year's Committing to Child Survival: A Promise Renewed annual report focuses on newborn survival. This report not only presents levels and trends in under-five and neonatal mortality since 1990, but also provides analysis on key interventions for mother and newborn.

About UNICEF

UNICEF has saved more children's lives than any other humanitarian organization. We work tirelessly to help children and their families, doing whatever it takes to ensure children survive. We provide children with healthcare and immunization, clean water, nutrition and food security, education, emergency relief and more.

UNICEF is supported entirely by voluntary donations and helps children regardless of race, religion or politics. As part of the UN, we are active in over 190 countries - more than any other organization. Our determination and our reach are unparalleled. Because nowhere is too far to go to help a child survive. For more information about UNICEF, please visit www.unicef.ca.

For further information:

Stefanie Carmichael, Communications Specialist, (416) 482-6552 ext. 8866; Cell: (647) 500-4230, scarmichael@unicef.ca.
Tiffany Baggetta, Director, Communications and Brand, (416) 482-6552 ext. 8892; Cell: (647) 308-4806, tbaggetta@unicef.ca.