UNICEF released figures yesterday showing a dramatic decrease in child mortality over the last 18 years. In 1990, some 12.5 million children died before they reached their fifth birthday. In 2008 that figure shrunk to 8.8 million children. The figure is still ghastly, but but represents a 28% decline in child mortality. This is progress.
So what can be attributed to this decline? Aid. Or, more accurately, internationally sponsored public health campaigns in the developing world.
Public health experts attribute the continuing decline to increased use of key health interventions, such as immunizations, including measles vaccinations, the use of insecticide-treated bednets to prevent malaria and Vitamin A supplementation. Where these interventions have increased, positive results have followed (Emphasis mine. Our friends at Nothing But Nets should be proud!)
True, there is still a long way to go to reaching the Millennium Development Goal of lowering by two-thirds the number of children who fail to reach the age of five. The UNICEF figures show that a small handful of countries–India, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Nigeria–account for a large proportion of under-five deaths. If child mortality can be brought to heel in those countries, the MDG may yet be reached.
The figures released by UNICEF show that this kind international intervention can work. If we want to achieve this MDG, we ought to scale up our financial and political committments to these issues. Or, in the words of then-candidate Barack Obama “make the Millennium Development Goals American Goals.”