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Global child mortality rates have halved since 1990 - but that’s not enough to meet the MDG target

New estimates of child mortality were released today by the UN Inter-Agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation (UN IGME), and show the global child (under-five) mortality rate has dropped 47 percent since 1990 - from 90 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1990, to 48 in 2012. This decline represents substantial progress, but the rate of decline remains insufficient to reach Millennium Development Goal 4 (MDG 4) of a two-thirds reduction in 1990 levels by 2015.

But a closer look at the data show that just looking at the average trend hides the accelerated decline in rates in recent years. The average decline in rates was just 1.2 percent per year between 1990 and 1995, but between 2005 and 2012 there has been average annual reduction in child mortality rates of 3.9 percent. This recent progress is close to the average rate needed to be “on track” to meet MDG 4, since under-five mortality rates needs to be going down by at least 4 percent annually. 

The highest child mortality rates are in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa

Looking beyond the global average, five of the World Bank’s six developing regions (except for Sub-Saharan Africa) have reduced their under-five mortality rate by 50 percent or more since 1990. The East Asia & Pacific, Latin America & Caribbean, Europe & Central Asia and Middle East & North Africa regions are “on-track” to achieve MDG4, but South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa are not. The highest rates of child mortality remain in Sub-Saharan Africa, with an average under-five mortality rate of 98 deaths per 1,000 live births - about 16 times more than the average of high-income countries.

Overall, the number of under-five deaths per year worldwide has declined from 12.6 million in 1990 to 6.6 million in 2012. Although the number of child deaths has been falling in every region, the share of child deaths is increasingly concentrated in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia – 81 percent of all child deaths in the world occurred in these two regions in 2012, compared to 67 percent in 1990. 

India and Nigeria Account for more than a third of all under-five deaths globally


About 99% percent of under-five deaths occur in developing countries and about half of under-five deaths occur in only five countries: India, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Pakistan and China. India (22 percent) and Nigeria (13 percent) together account for more than a third of all under-five deaths.

About 44 percent of under-5 deaths occur within the first month of life 


The proportion of under-five deaths that occur within the neonatal period (first month of life) has increased from 37 percent in 1990 to 44 percent in 2012, because declines in the neonatal mortality rate are slower than those in the mortality rate for older children. As indicated in the press release, care for mother and baby in the first 24 hours of any child’s life is critical. Continued investments by countries to strengthen health systems are essential to ensure all mothers and children can get affordable good quality care.

Continued efforts to improve child mortality estimates

The UN Inter-Agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation includes UNICEF, WHO, the World Bank and United Nations Population Division as full members, and was formed in 2004 to share data on child mortality, harmonize estimates within the UN system, improve methods for child mortality estimation, and to report on progress towards the MDGs. The efforts of UN IGME and their Technical Advisory Group allow the world to have improved, reliable and transparent child mortality estimates.

All data, estimates and details on UN IGME methods are available on the Child Mortality Estimates (CME Info) website at The new UN IGME child mortality estimates are also available in World Bank’s World Development Indicators and HealthStats databases. For more information, you can also download the latest report on Levels and Trends in Child Mortality.


Emi Suzuki

Demographer, Development Data Group, World Bank

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