Mortality rates of children under the age of five are now dropping faster than at any time over the past 20 years, although newborns are disproportionately at risk from a lack of access to medical care, according to two UNICEF reports released Tuesday.

wpid-uniceftwitter.pngThe reports by the UN Children’s Fund, both focusing on child survival rates, found that under-five mortality figures have dropped from 12.7 million in 1990 to 6.3 million in 2013, a decrease of almost 50 per cent.

The number of neonatal deaths, which occur in the first 28 days of a child’s life, declined by 40 per cent over the same period, bringing the number of deaths to 2.8 million. Neonatal deaths make up a larger proportion of overall child deaths than ever before, the report said.

“In order to achieve further accelerations in declines in child mortality, we will need to focus on the newborn period,” said Tessa Wardlaw, associate director at UNICEF.

The biggest contributing factor to newborn deaths is the lack of access to medical services, especially during and immediately after the time of birth, which leads to 1 million babies dying – often from preventable causes – within their first day of life each year.

For children who survive their first month, the leading causes of death are preventable and treatable diseases such as pneumonia, diarrhoea and malaria.

“The global community is poised to end preventable maternal, newborn and child deaths within a generation,” said Flavia Bustreo, assistant director of the World Health Organization.

“We know what to do and we know how to do it. The challenge now is to move from plan to action.”

Governments need to understand where the shortcomings in their health care systems are that lead to inadequate care for children and pregnant mothers, said Mickey Chopra, head of UNICEF’s global health programmes.

“There is now a gathering momentum from countries in every part of the world to make sure proven, cost effective interventions are applied where they will save the most lives,” Chopra said.



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