Fact sheet on child health

June 2012

Key facts

  • Global underfive mortality rate has dropped by 40 percent from 87 deaths per 1000 in 1990 to 51 in 2011. The rate of decline has accelerated from 1.8 percent a year over 1990-2000 to 3.2 percent a year over 2000-2011. The number of underfive deaths has declined from more than 12 million in 1990 to 6.9 million in 2011. This translates into nearly 19 000 children under-five dying every day in 2011, which is about 14 000 fewer deaths a day compared to 1990 levels.
  • In the Western Pacific Region, underfive mortality rate has reduced by 65% from 48 deaths per 1000 in 1990 to 16 in 2011. Deaths among the underfive declined from 1.6 million in 1990 to 384 000 in 2011. Around 1052 children under-five were dying each day in 2011 – about 3331 fewer deaths compared to 1990.
  • 93 percent of the underfive deaths are in six countries of the Region (Cambodia, China, the Lao People's Democratic Republic, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, and Viet Nam). Almost 65 percent of under-five deaths occur in China alone, because of the big size of its population. Together with India, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo and Pakistan, China contributes to about half of under-five deaths worldwide.
  • In the Region, 72 percent of deaths in the underfive are due to neonatal causes, pneumonia and diarrhoea. Preterm birth, birth asphyxia (lack of oxygen at birth), and infections cause most neonatal deaths. After the first month of life and through the first five years, the main cause of death is pneumonia in most countries. Malaria remains to be an important cause of child mortality in Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu and a few endemic areas in other countries.
  • Conditions that cause the highest mortality are preventable and treatable through simple, affordable interventions. Strengthening health systems to provide such interventions to all children will save many young lives.
  • Variations in mortality are noted within and among countries by geographic area, maternal education, rural or urban residence, birth interval, and wealth. Children in low and middle income countries are nearly 18 times more likely to die before the age of five than children in high-income countries.
  • Undernutrition is the underlying contributing factor in over one third of all child deaths, making children more vulnerable to severe disease and death.
Neonatal health
  • A child's risk of dying is highest in the neonatal period or the first 28 days of life. Safe childbirth and essential neonatal care by a skilled birth attendant are essential to prevent these deaths. In the Region, about 54 %of child deaths under the age of five take place during the neonatal period. The proportion of neonatal deaths has been increasing over time and slower to change than overall under-five mortality.
  • Around the world, three million babies died in 2011 in their first month of life and a similar number are stillborn. Within the first month, one quarter to one half of all deaths occur within the first 24 hours of life, and 75% occur in the first week. In the WPR, around 209 000 newborns died in 2011. Most deaths occurred within the first two days of life.
  • The 48 hours immediately following birth is the most crucial period for newborn survival. This is when the mother and child should receive follow-up care to prevent and treat illness whether the baby is delivered at home or in the health facility.
  • Prior to birth, the mother can increase her child's chance of survival and good health by accessing quality pre-conception care, attending antenatal care consultations, being immunized against tetanus, taking iron and folic acid supplements, engaging in physical activity, avoiding smoking and use of alcohol.
  • At the time of birth, a baby's chance of survival increases significantly with the presence of a skilled birth attendant who delivers the essential care for a newborn which includes:
    • keeping the baby warm;
    • initiating breastfeeding within one hour from birth and exclusively breastfeeding thereafter up to age six months;
    • cord care; and
    • identifying sign of illness and seeking care immediately with a trained health care provider.