Emerging Nations: The Main Causes of Early Death in Children

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) an estimated 6.2 million children under 15 years died from mostly preventable causes in 2018. Of those 5.3 million happened in their first 5 years and almost 50% of those during the first month since birth.

Over half of those deaths are preventable and can be treated with simple affordable treatment such as immunization, proper nutrition, good quality water, food and available care by trained health providers when required.

The shocking statistic is that children in Sub-Saharan Africa are more than 15 times more likely to die before the age of 5 than children from high income countries.

Breaking down those  figures really shocks when you see that out of those 5.3 million children more than 80 % come from 2 regions, Sub-Saharan Africa and Central and Southern Asia. Out of those regions’ half of all under-five deaths in 2018 occurred in just five countries: India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. India and Nigeria alone account for about a third.

More than half of under-5 child deaths are due to diseases that are preventable and treatable through simple, affordable interventions. Strengthening health systems to provide such interventions to all children will save many young lives.

Malnourished children, particularly those with severe acute malnutrition, have a higher risk of death from common childhood illness such as diarrhoea, pneumonia, and malaria. Nutrition-related factors contribute to about 45% of deaths in children under-5 years of age.

Prevention with vaccines

Vaccines are available for some of the deadliest childhood diseases, such as measles, polio, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, pneumonia due to Haemophilius influenzae type B and Streptococcus pneumonia and diarrhoea due to rotavirus. Vaccines can protect all children from illness and death.

Emerging priorities for children’s health

Congenital anomalies, injuries, and non-communicable diseases (chronic respiratory diseases, acquired heart diseases, childhood cancers, diabetes, and obesity) are the emerging priorities in the global child health agenda. Congenital anomalies affect an estimated 1 in every 33 infants, resulting in 3.2 million children with disabilities related to birth defects every year. The global disease burden due to non-communicable diseases affecting children in childhood and later in life is rapidly increasing, even though many of the risk factors can be prevented.

Global response: Sustainable Development Goal 3

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations in 2015 were developed to promote healthy lives and well-being for all children. The SDG Goal 3 is to end preventable deaths of new-borns and under-5 children by 2030.

Accelerated progress will be needed in more than a quarter of all countries, to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target on under-five mortality by 2030.  Meeting the SDG target would reduce the number of under-5 deaths by 10 million up until 2030. Focused efforts are still needed in Sub-Saharan Africa and South East Asia to prevent 80 per cent of these deaths.

The target is to reduce under-five mortality to at least as low as 25 per 1000 live births in every country. That is something that we must all attempt to do our utmost to achieve.

WHO response

The WHO calls on all member states to address health equality through universal health coverage. Countries surely must ensure that all children are able to access essential health services without undue financial hardship. They must move from “business as usual” to innovative, multiple, and tailored approaches to increase access, coverage, and quality of child health services. Now that will require strategic direction and an optimal mix of community and facility-based care.

The big question is “how many countries will follow that lead?” Will they rely on NGO’s? Or will they finally mature into health provision for the people? Only time and local political pressure will tell.

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