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Global child mortality rate continues decline

In this image, a boy in a bright shirt carries a kite while running over a field of garbage.
Children play with kites in a waste area in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on Sept. 15, 2019. Photo: Syed Mahamudur Rahman/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Every 5 seconds a child under 15 years old died in 2018, mostly from preventable causes, according to the latest mortality trends report from 2 UN agencies.

The big picture: UNICEF and the United Nations Inter-agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation (UNIGME) found the total number of deaths among children and adolescents under 15 years old has dropped by 56% since 1990 — from about 14.2 million to 6.2 million in 2018. Causes of death include treatable infectious diseases, nutritional causes, drowning, burns and injuries.

The impact: Approximately 52 million children under 5 years old are projected to die between 2019 and 2030, according to the report, a decrease from 2017's projection of 60 million children in that age group. About half of those children would be newborns.

  • 4 out of 5 of those deaths under age 15 would occur in sub-Saharan Africa and Central and Southern Asia in 2019–2030.
  • If all countries reach the UN's child survival target of 25 or fewer deaths per 1,000 live births by 2030, 11 million lives under age 5 could be saved — more than half in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Maternal deaths are currently 50 times higher for women in sub-Saharan Africa than in high-income countries.

Where it stands: Countries with high to very high mortality rates for children under 5 largely made faster progress in reducing mortality since 2000 than during the 1990s. Sabrina Sidhu, a UNICEF spokesperson, said that change could broadly be attributed to increased vaccinations for preventable diseases like measles and pneumonia and stronger prioritization of the issue.

  • Sub-Saharan Africa remains the region with the highest mortality rate of under-5 year olds in the world.

What they're saying: “We must support countries as they move toward universal health coverage to ensure that all women and children get the care they need through functional quality primary health care systems," said Muhammad Pate, global director for health, nutrition and population at the World Bank Group.

  • “We are pleased to see a reduction in maternal deaths, but the decline is far from adequate,” said Natalia Kanem, executive director of UNFPA. “Hundreds of thousands of women continue to die each year from preventable causes. This is unacceptable."

Go deeper: Children worldwide are less likely to die young than ever before