Tackling Child Mortality Cheap and Achievable: Report

by VR Sreeraman on Oct 6 2009 4:26 PM

Child deaths around the world could be cut dramatically for just 40 billion dollars a year, as babies often die from easily treatable diseases, a new report by Save the Children said Monday.

The report, published to launch a major global campaign to tackle infant mortality, said two million children die every year within 24 hours of their birth and that nearly nine million died in 2008 before their fifth birthday. Describing the death rate as a "moral outrage", Save the Children said many people vastly overrated how much money was needed to improve young children's chances of survival.

"Change is indeed possible. If people understood how affordable and feasible it is to prevent children dying, they'd be shocked," said Thomas Chandy, head of Save the Children in India.

Major causes of death in the first stages of life include malnutrition, pneumonia and diarrhoea, afflictions that are cheap and easy to cure.

Low-cost solutions could reduce neonatal mortality by up to 70 percent but public perceptions of the cost has stopped governments from taking action, authors of the report concluded.

"Every child, no matter where or to whom they are born, has an equal right and deserves an equal chance to survive. And every one of us has a moral responsibility to act and act now," said Chandy.

Save the Children surveyed more than 15,000 people in August and September from countries ranging from India to Great Britain, Italy, China and Kenya and found about half thought the cost of making a major impact on infant mortality would be at least 400 billion dollars a year, ten times the actual figure. Related article: 13 million premature births worldwide: US charity

Research gathered by the charity from 14 countries found India's child mortality statistics were particularly stark, with 72 deaths per 1,000 live births, higher than neighbouring countries such as Bangladesh.

More than 400,000 Indian babies die every year from preventable causes within 24 hours of their birth, the report calculated.

"I?ve had four children but I lost my second child when he was just two days old," Mewa, a 25-year-old mother who lives in a slum in the Indian state of Rajasthan, told Save the Children.

"I don't know why my son passed away. He wasn't even ill. I guess if I could know one thing, I'd like to know what treatments there are that I could use for my children. That's all."

More than half of all Indian women give birth without the help of skilled health care professionals, leading to infections and complications.

In far-flung areas, doctors and hospitals are rare and villagers often put the health of their children in the hands of poorly trained substitutes.

The report added that India was set to miss its Millennium Development goal of reducing under-five mortality by two-thirds by 2015, but pointed out that other countries such as Nepal, Peru and the Philippines were now on target.

"What these countries have achieved can be easily be replicated elsewhere," Save the Children said.