New data: How many children survived to see their 5th birthday?

Where you are born shouldn’t determine whether you live or die. A child plays on a swing set in Yei, South Sudan. Photo credit: Tom Price. See more of his work from his photo series here

Today, UNICEF and its partners released their annual report on child mortality, providing an update on what boils down to an answer for one essential question: “How many children around the world last year did not survive to see their 5th birthday?”

The answer?  6.6 million, or more than 18,000 children every day. That’s almost half of what it was 22 years ago!

This report release felt particularly timely for me, having just celebrated a birthday last weekend.  Surrounded by great friends, great food, a few too many drinks, and some lovely gifts, I felt particularly grateful and fortunate.  But the one thing that I didn’t reflect on, that I took for granted—even as a health policy professional!—was the fact that where I was born mattered a great deal for me being alive and healthy today.

The new data in the report is striking.  If I had been born in West or Central Africa—the region that’s made the slowest progress over the last two decades—there would have been a 1 in 8 chance that I wouldn’t have made it to 5.

If I had been born into a family where my mother had not been able to attend school, the risks of both her dying in childbirth and me dying during infancy would have increased dramatically.  If I had grown up in a low-income country, I would be much more likely to die from causes like pneumonia (17 percent of all under 5 deaths), diarrhea or malaria.  Simply put, my childhood could have been radically different.

But birthdays are cause for celebration, and not all the news in the report is bleak, even for some of the poorest countries in the world.  So what’s the good news?  (Or, to borrow from Charles Kenny, how do we know things are “getting better”?) Here are some uplifting stats that we would love for you to share:

- There are roughly 17,000 fewer children dying each day than there were in 1990

– The world is currently reducing under 5 deaths faster than at any other time during the last two decades, going from a reduction of 1.2 percent from 1990 to 1995 to 3.9 percent from 2005 to 2012

– Seven high mortality countries (Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Liberia, Malawi, Nepal, Timor-Leste and Tanzania) have already reduced their under 5 mortality by two-thirds or more since 1990

– Eastern and Southern Africa has reduced its under 5 mortality rate by 53 percent since 1990, and in the past 7 years has been among the best performing regions in the world, reducing under 5 mortality at an annual rate of 5.3 percent since 2005.

– Since 2000, diarrhea deaths are down more than 50 percent and pneumonia deaths are down 35 percent –thanks in part to improvements in water and sanitation, and reinforced with the introduction of new vaccines through GAVI

Please join me in sharing these new stats far and wide on your Facebook or Twitter feeds. Or retweet me here.