Global Child Mortality Rates Plummet

Both the New York Times and the Washington Post reported good news today on worldwide child mortality rates. As shown in the Times chart after the jump, the number of deaths of young children around the world has been cut in half since 1960, when these statistics were first recorded. This fact is even more impressive considering: 1) world population has doubled since 1960, and 2) these stats are based on 2005 household surveys and do not adequately account for the recent uptick in funds from sources like the Global Fund, the Gates Foundation, and the Administration’s AIDS and malaria programs.

UNICEF gives four reasons for the dramatic decrease (according to the Times).

  1. “Measles deaths have dropped 60 percent since 1999, thanks to vaccination drives” like those sponsored by the Measles Initiative.
  2. “More babies are sleeping under mosquito nets” because of campaigns like Nothing But Nets.
  3. “More women are breast-feeding rather than mixing formula or cereal with dirty water.”
  4. “More are getting Vitamin A drops”

Both articles gloss over the vital role that UNICEF has played in the decrease, but one doesn’t have to look far for evidence. Through the Measles Initiative, UNICEF and its partners have vaccinated more than 375,000 children since 2001 and have been the driving force behind the 60 percent decrease in measles deaths worldwide. UNICEF in particular provides a unique framework for procurement and for dealing with the complex logistics of delivering those vaccines where they are needed most. Through the same framework, UNICEF delivers Vitamin A, the deficiency of which is a widespread cause of malnutrition and death. UNICEF also bought nearly 25 million anti-malaria bed nets in 2006, making them one of the largest buyers in the world. They provide the same kind of logistical support that they do for the Measles Initiative to the Nothing But Nets campaign.

A second underdeveloped theme in both articles is that the solutions that are working are surprisingly low-tech and inexpensive. It costs only $10 to purchase and deliver a long-lasting, anti-malarial bed net, which can protect an entire family, and to educate that family on its use. Measles vaccines are less than $1 a pop. Vitamin A supplements are pennies apiece. Breast feeding is free. As global challenges (and the solutions) become increasingly complex, it’s comforting to know that there are some clear and guaranteed ways to make a difference globally.