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Lives on the line: reducing under-five child mortality rates in Africa

Dereje Ketema Wolde's picture
As countries all across Africa recognize International Day of the African Child today, I thought it would be a timely opportunity to blog about the progress of under-five child mortality rates over the past two decades.  But first, some data for us to understand the big picture:
  • On a global level, the rate of under-five child mortality has been cut in half, from 90 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 48 per 1,000 in 2012.  The estimated annual number of under-five deaths has fallen from 12.6 million to 6.6 million over the same period.
  • Since 1990, 216 million children worldwide have died before their fifth birthday — more than the current total population of Brazil, the world's fifth most populous country.
  • Disparities between children in the high-income and low-income countries have narrowed, but many gaps still remain.  Case in point: In Luxembourg, the under-five mortality rate is just 2 deaths per 1,000 live births; in Sierra Leone, it is 182 deaths per 1,000 births.

As we stand a year away from the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 4 – which aims to reduce the global under-five child mortality rate by two-thirds between 1990 and 2015 – the pace of reduction would have needed to quadruple in 2013-2015 to achieve this goal, according to the United Nations Children's Fund's (UNICEF's) Committed to Child Survival: A Promised Renewed – Progress Report 2013.

A closer look at regional rates
Now let's take a look at the regional and country level data by viewing the World Development Indicators (WDI) 2014 and the indicator under-five mortality rate. The WDI also features a short progress report on MDG 4, which complements the detailed analysis of the World Bank Group's Global Monitoring Report.  This report uses the same methodology to assess whether countries are on track or off track to meet the 2015 targets.

Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), where one in ten children die before the age of five, faces the biggest challenges in achieving MDG 4, followed by South Asia.  The SSA region reduced its child mortality rate by 45% during 1990 to 2012, the only region to reduce its under-five mortality rate by less than half during this time.  SSA also lags behind other regions in its pace of decline in the total number of under-five deaths.

Figure 1