The Global Child Mortality Rate is Dropping Drastically

The rate has been rapidly decreasing since the 1990s.

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Alina Chan

Bronx Science school nurse Elizabeth Vargas has strong opinions on ways to reduce the child mortality rate even further.

Living in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Saamiya was only a two-month baby when she became afflicted with diarrheal disease in 2018. Fortunately, she was not among the 500,000 children who die annually from this affliction. She was treated at the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (ICDDR,B), the only hospital in the world that treats diarrhea, which only treats 220,000 children a year. This single hospital is not enough to provide for all those that suffer, including the cases that end up fatal. However, more and more people, similar to Saamiya, are being treated for preventable diseases in developing countries.

Worldwide, mortality rates of children and infants have dropped and are continuing to do so. Just 20 years ago, approximately 10 million children died before reaching the young age of five, also called the under-five mortality rate. The global mortality rate has dropped from 18.2% in 1960 to 4.3% in 2015. Since 1990, more than 80 countries have decreased their under-five mortality rate by roughly two thirds from 12.6 million to 5.3 million in 2018.  

Bangladesh was able to decrease its child mortality rate by 72%, from 144 deaths per 1,000 births to 41 deaths since 1990. In large countries, such as Brazil and China, child mortality rates have reduced ten times over the span of the last 40 years. 

This leap in progress is mainly due to help from international aid groups, such as UNICEF and WHO, that aim to combat child poverty and enforce universal healthcare to prevent diseases children are most prone to. 

“A lot of the credit goes to not only global entities like UNICEF but also to both national and donor resources…. For instance, various child survival programs, such as USAID’s Child Survival Initiative, sought improvements in immunization coverage, greater use of oral rehydration therapy, improvement in the health and nutritional status of mothers and children, and a reduction in the number of high-risk births,” said Sadia Safa, President of the new UNICEF Club. 

In 2015, the UN showed evidence of advancement when they adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), one of which was to promote better healthcare for children, adding to the rapid spread of healthcare. As a result of the circulation of better medical care, there have been fewer births of underweight newborns and improved treatment for diseases.  

Despite the global progress made in reducing the child mortality rate, there are still countries struggling to bring their numbers down to the same extent as the more affluent countries have. 

“I think maybe in other countries they don’t have the resources available to treat or diagnose children. They don’t have pharmaceuticals or health professionals. They use outdated research, materials, textbooks,” said Bronx Science’s school nurse, Elizabeth Vargas.

This proves true for areas in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia. Although the under-five mortality rate in Sub-Saharan Africa has been consistently declining for the past 50 years, it remains the highest in the world, with 1 in every 13 children dying before their fifth birthday. This is 15 times more than wealthier countries where the child mortality is typically less than 1%. 

Child mortality is a prevailing issue for poverty-stricken countries that cannot provide the resources needed for children with malnutrition. This leads to leading to a higher risk of death from common diseases that can typically be resolved with medication, such as diarrhea, pneumonia, and malaria. Around 45% of deaths under the age of 5 are attributed to nutritional related issues. “I think maybe in other countries they don’t have the resources available to treat or diagnose children. They don’t have pharmaceuticals or health professionals. They use outdated research, materials, textbooks,” said Bronx Science’s school nurse, Elizabeth Vargas.

What can be done to combat this issue? Ben Oestericher ‘20, President of the Current Events Forum, provided his opinion on how Africa can act to decrease their child mortality rate.

“[African nations are] simply not able to accommodate the growing size of the continent. The solution must involve investment. African nations cannot create the structural growth in their economy to accelerate economic and health-related goals. As a result, actors like the United States should take initiative in creating tax incentives for foreign direct investment and bolstering our foreign aid budget to keep up with the continent,” he said.

 More must be done to ensure the global child mortality rate continues to go down. The death of a child is a traumatic, devastating experience that is every parent’s worst nightmare. No parent can ever be prepared for this distressful and devastating impact on their life. Despite this, we must be proud of the fact that the world has come far from where we were just a few decades ago. The world must remain optimistic and continue advancements in public health by providing resources for developing nations.

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