MARY REICHARD, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: some good news: healthier children. Around the world, more children are living into adulthood than ever before.
NICK EICHER, HOST: Yeah, it was only two decades ago that nearly 10 million children around the globe died before their fifth birthday. A new report estimates that number has now been cut in half. So what’s behind it?
WORLD Radio’s Sarah Schweinsberg spoke with relief organizations to find out.
SARAH SCHWEINSBERG, REPORTER: From 2000 to 2017, countries with the majority of child deaths drastically lowered their mortality rates. Of these 97 nations, the only exception to the improvements was war-torn Syria.
That’s according to a new report published by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the University of Washington.
Robert Zachritz is vice president of World Vision’s U.S. government relations. He says the drastic decline is the result of government and non-profit efforts. Together they’ve identified the main culprits of child mortality and worked to implement solutions.
ZACHRITZ: So first what are they dying from? About 40 percent are neonatal causes. Then you see maybe pneumonia, diarrhea and malaria. So those are the four major causes. So simple solutions, you know, skilled birth attendants, oral rehydration, bed nets, immunizations, and then sometimes even clean stoves as well as what you’re breathing. So those simple interventions have helped really reduce these numbers.
The report found parts of Afghanistan saw child mortality reduced by up to 71 percent. While many countries like Mongolia, Botswana, Ethiopia, Cambodia, and Peru all saw a two-thirds drop in their mortality rates.
ZACHRITZ: Again, that comes with both private and public resources of people working together.
Zachritz says, in particular, the U.S. government has played a key role in improving the health of children around the world. Today, the United States is the largest funder and implementer of global health programs in the world—supporting programs in more than 70 countries.
ZACHRITZ: It’s a celebration of something the U.S. government has done well.
Dr. Jon Fielder is the Executive Director of African Mission Healthcare. The organization provides medical clinics in Africa with resources and training.
Fielder says one reason African countries have seen steep child mortality declines is because of improved HIV treatment and immunizations. And while improvements in Africa have been helped along by the international community, there’s also a grassroots healthcare movement.
FIELDER: It’s really driven from within Africa itself. There are far more professionally trained African health care workers than, than ever before. The governments have built a lot of clinics and hospitals.
More clinics opening means more people have access to healthcare and travel shorter distance for medical attention. Fielder says that addresses another key factor in what makes for a healthy child: a healthy mother.
FIELDER: Some studies have suggested that the rate of under five mortality goes up five or 10 fold or even more if the mother dies. So part of impacting under five mortality is making sure that mothers get good neonatal and delivery care as well as treatment of whatever other conditions they might have such as HIV.
Despite all of these improvements, in 2018, more than 5 million children under the age of five still died. About half of those deaths occurred in sub-Saharan Africa in countries like Niger, Chad, and Sudan. So Fielder says, obviously, there is still much work to be done.
FIELDER: We need to make further progress in terms of training… that the right equipment and the right supplies are readily available, we have to make progress in that area to further drive down under five mortality rate because the number of children being born is still high.
The report also showed within some countries like India and Nigeria, gains in the fight against child mortality aren’t equally distributed. That disparity is especially pronounced in Nigeria. In northern Nigeria, 1 in 5 children die, while in the south, 1 in 16 children do.
Nanlop Ogbureke works in Nigeria with U.K.-based Christian Aid. She says multiple factors contribute to that disparity.
OGBUREKE: So for Northern Nigeria, where we have very high infant mortality rates there’s issues about weak health systems, there’s issues with the Northeastern region, with the Boko Haram and conflict. So those are also barriers to access to healthcare apart from medicines and other issues around logistics.
World Vision’s Robert Zachritz says conditions in Northern Nigeria point to the next stage in improving access to medical care. Learning how to deliver healthcare in unstable areas.
ZACHRITZ: Increasingly some people are looking at, okay, how do you deliver these types of programs in the midst of a conflict or a natural disaster, or how do you mitigate from that?
Zachritz says continuing to improve the health of children benefits everyone. Economies grow, mothers live longer, and families are renewed.
ZACHRITZ: The joy of that, think of what a death means to a parent and the grief of that. When a switch of one of despair into one of hope, there’s almost like a spiritual dimension of you can change despair into hope and then that provides just energy and fullness of life.
Reporting for WORLD Radio, I’m Sarah Schweinsberg.