A new born child in Sierra Leone has the lowest chance in the world of surviving until age five, with the prospects almost as bad for children in Angola and Afghanistan, according to a report released today by the UN’s children’s fund. In 2006, nearly 9.7 million children died worldwide before reaching the age of five, mostly from preventable causes such as diarrhoea, malaria or malnutrition, UNICEF said in its annual report. But progress has been made in a number of regions and strengthening local health services holds great promise for reducing the child mortality rate, said the 154-page document, The State of the World’s Children 2008.
More than 26,000 children under the age of five die each day on average. In 2006, the latest year for which statistics are available, Sierra Leone had the highest child mortality rate, with 270 deaths per 1,000 births. Angola came second with 260 deaths per 1,000 births, followed by Afghanistan with 257 deaths per 1,000 births. The worldwide under-five mortality rate in 2006 was 72 deaths per 1,000 births. The average rate of industrialised countries was six deaths per 1,000 births. “The loss of 9.7 million young lives each year is unacceptable, especially when many of these deaths are preventable,” said UNICEF executive director Ann Veneman. The deaths could be prevented by simple health care measures, such as vaccination, insecticide-treated bed nets and vitamin supplements, the report said. But the measures must be taken all together and applied in each village to reach every child, even in the remotest regions of the world, it said. “We know exactly what works,” said Angela Hawke of UNICEF, referring to strategies the agency has been promoting for some time.