The United Nations Inter-agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation (UN IGME) has estimated that 5 million children died before their fifth birthday. The same report stated that another 2.1 million children and youth aged between 5 to 24 years lost their lives in 2021.
In a separate report, the group found that 1.9 million babies were stillborn during the same period.
Tragically, many of these deaths could have been prevented with equitable access and high-quality maternal, newborn, adolescent and child health care.
1,000 days of life
In the Philippines, over 60,000 children die annually before their fifth birthday because of complications brought about by premature birth, intra-partum complications, and infectious disease. More than 25,000 babies are stillborn every year.
The Philippines needs to increase access to quality maternal and child health and nutrition services, achieve full vaccination of all children, and deliver on commitments for ensuring good health and nutrition through the first 1,000 days of life so that children will not only survive, but thrive.
In the Philippines, almost 60 percent of children who die before their fifth birthday are newborns, pointing to a need to improve health and nutrition outcomes for both mothers and babies.
“Every day, far too many parents face the trauma of losing their children, sometimes even before their first breath,” said Vidhya Ganesh, UNICEF Director of the Division of Data Analytics, Planning and Monitoring.
Widespread, preventable tragedy
Ganesh said such widespread, preventable tragedy should never be accepted as inevitable.
“Progress is possible with stronger political will and targeted investment in equitable access to primary health care for every woman and child,” Ganesh added.
The reports showed some positive outcomes with a lower risk of death across all ages globally since 2000.
The global under-five mortality rate fell by 50 percent since the start of the century, while mortality rates in older children and youth dropped by 36 percent, and the stillbirth rate decreased by 35 percent.
This, they said, can be attributed to more investments in strengthening primary health systems to benefit women, children and young people.
Swift action needed
However, gains have reduced significantly since 2010, and 54 countries will fall short of meeting the Sustainable Development Goals target for under-five mortality.
If swift action is not taken to improve health services, the agencies warned that almost 59 million children and youth will die before 2030, and nearly 16 million babies will be lost to stillbirth.
“It is grossly unjust that a child’s chances of survival can be shaped just by their place of birth, and that there are such vast inequities in their access to lifesaving health services,” said Dr. Anshu Banerjee, Director for Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health and Ageing at the World Health Organization (WHO).
Banerjee added: “Children everywhere need strong primary health care systems that meet their needs and those of their families, so that, no matter where they are born, they have the best start and hope for the future.”
Differentiating chances of survival
Children continue to face wildly differentiating chances of survival based on where they are born, with sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia shouldering the heaviest burden, the reports stated.
Though sub-Saharan Africa just had 29 percent of global live births, the region accounted for 56 percent of all under-five deaths in 2021, and Southern Asia for 26 percent of the total.
Children born in sub-Saharan Africa are subject to the highest risk of childhood death in the world—15 times higher than the risk for children in Europe and Northern America.
Mothers in these two regions also endure the painful loss of babies to stillbirth at an exceptional rate, with 77 per cent of all stillbirths in 2021 occurring in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
Nearly half of all stillbirths happened in sub-Saharan Africa.
The risk of a woman having a stillborn baby in sub-Saharan Africa is seven times more likely than in Europe and North America.
Basic rights to health
For his part, Juan Pablo Uribe, Global Director for Health, Nutrition and Population, World Bank and Director of the Global Financing Facility said that behind these numbers are millions of children and families who are denied their basic rights to health.
“We need political will and leadership for sustained financing for primary health care which is one of the best investments countries and development partners can make,” Uribe said.
Access to and availability of quality health care continues to be a matter of life or death for children globally.
Most child deaths occur in the first five years, of which half are within the very first month of life.
Premature birth, complications
For these youngest babies, premature birth and complications during labor are the leading causes of death.
Similarly, more than 40 percent of stillbirths occur during labor, most of which are preventable when women have access to quality care throughout pregnancy and birth.
For children who survive past their first 28 days, infectious diseases like pneumonia, diarrhea and malaria pose the biggest threat.
While Covid-19 has not directly increased childhood mortality. with children facing a lower likelihood of dying from the disease than adults, the pandemic may have increased future risks to their survival. In particular, the reports highlight concerns around disruptions to vaccination campaigns, nutrition services, and access to primary health care, which could jeopardize their health and well-being for many years to come.
Backslide in vaccinations
In addition, the report said, the pandemic has fueled the largest continued backslide in vaccinations in three decades, putting the most vulnerable newborns and children at greater risk of dying from preventable diseases.
The reports also noted gaps in data, which could critically undermine the impact of policies and programs designed to improve childhood survival and well-being.
“The new estimates highlight the remarkable global progress since 2000 in reducing mortality among children under age five,” said John Wilmoth, Director, UN DESA Population Division.
“Despite this success, more work is needed to address persistent large differences in child survival across countries and regions, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. Only by improving access to quality health care, especially around the time of childbirth, will we be able to reduce these inequities and end preventable deaths of newborns and children worldwide,” he said.