Decades of Progress on Child Mortality Threatened by COVID-19 Pandemic


September 14, 2020
Dorothy Monza, Advocacy Assistant

UNICEF and the UN Interagency Group for Child Mortality Estimation (UN IGME) recently published a new report on child mortality estimates during 2019 and found that under-five mortality has decreased almost 60 percent since 1990. This is a remarkable achievement, but progress has been lagging in recent years at a time when we should be accelerating our efforts. In 2019, 5.2 million children still died before reaching their fifth birthday, many from preventable or treatable causes. We know that it’s possible to end preventable child deaths with sustained political will and sufficient investment. If we want to reach all children everywhere, we will need to scale up and accelerate our efforts, as well as provide new resources to help partner countries address the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

There has been tremendous progress in the fight to end preventable child deaths, but key challenges and health inequities remain. Younger children are particularly vulnerable – about half of children who died before age five died in their first month of life. Regional disparities are also widespread. In Sub-Saharan Africa the under-five mortality rate is 20 times higher than in the Australia region.

It’s a tragedy that where a child is born can determine whether they’ll live to see their fifth birthday. The United States can help address this by supporting partner countries and investing in proven solutions. Current trends estimate that 48 million children under 5 will die between 2020 and 2030, the majority them in low-income countries. But almost half of these deaths can be prevented through high coverage of quality prenatal care, skilled care at birth, postnatal care for moms and babies, and care of small and sick newborns.

COVID-19 pandemic could reverse decades of progress

The data from this report was collected before the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic which threatens decades of progress on child mortality. Child and maternal health services have been disrupted worldwide because of financial and resource constraints, lockdowns, and fear about the risk of getting COVID-19 when using services. Routine immunization services are substantially hindered in at least 68 countries, and about 80 million children under the age of one are missing out on vaccines for leading killers like measles and pneumonia. Without timely action, impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic could put an additional 6.7 million children at risk for wasting, an acute form of malnutrition, and cause more than 10,000 additional children to die per month during the first 12 months of the pandemic alone.

We cannot afford to press pause on the crises of child mortality or malnutrition while we fight the COVID-19 pandemic. Even worse would be not taking coordinated global action at all. It’s crucial that resources and policies are geared toward sustaining current rates of decline in child mortality, accelerating progress to reach all children with life-saving interventions, and supporting partner countries to adapt and strengthen health systems in response to COVID-19. This global pandemic requires a global response.

You can contact your members of Congress and tell them that they must urgently pass an emergency COVID-19 response bill with at least $20 billion for global response. You can also put pressure on Congress through the media by submitting a letter to the editor on why the global response to this pandemic cannot wait.

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