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Child mortality a continuing challenge for Pacific

UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF NZ)
Media Release

Child mortality rates a continuing challenge for Pacific states

Wellington, 6 August 2008. – Child mortality rates are lagging in a number of Pacific Island states according to a just released UNICEF report.

The State of Asia-Pacific’s Children 2008 examines the latest trends in child and maternal health in 37 countries across a region that is home to half the world’s children. The report also looks at actions required to accelerate progress for children.

Pacific countries with the highest levels of child mortality are Papua New Guinea, the Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands and Solomon Islands. Under-five deaths per 1,000 live births range from 41 in Micronesia to a high of 73 in Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands.

Although child mortality levels have fallen in these countries since 1990, none appear to be on track to achieve the UN Millenium Development Goal 4 (MDG4) of reducing the mortality rate by two thirds between 1990 and 2015. The UN Millenium Development Goals are a set of widely agreed upon anti-poverty targets to be reached by 2015.

Papua New Guinea – the most populous Pacific country in the study – was responsible for 14,000 under-five child deaths out of the 15,000 that occurred in the Pacific countries measured.

Pacific countries which are on track to meeting MDG4 are Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Nauru, Samoa, Tonga, Cook Islands, Fiji, Palau, and Niue.

Global achievement of the health-related UNMillenium Development Goals depends largely on India’s success and on China accelerating progress even further. In 2006 2.5 million child deaths occurred in these two countries accounting for nearly a third of all child deaths: India (2.1m) and China (415 000).

The most fragile period for a child in the Asia-Pacific is during the very first moments of life – if the baby is born without the help of a skilled birth attendant due to poor access or cultural practices, and if the mother is underweight, the chances of that baby staying alive becomes increasingly slim.

Pneumonia, diarrhoea and malnutrition are the major causes of child death in the region. But vast inequities in income, geography, gender and ethnicity are essentially what stand in the way of children surviving and thriving.

UNICEF NZ Executive Director Dennis McKinlay says that child survival is a key test of a nation’s progress in human development and child rights.

‘As the world has moved past the half way mark and into the final laps towards the UN Millennium Development Goals’ 2015 target, what is needed now is political will and sound strategies to dramatically increase investment in public health services that specifically target the poorest and most marginalised.’

Mr McKinlay says that public health expenditure across the region remains well below the world average on 5.1 per cent, with South Asia spending only 1.1 per cent of GDP and 1.9 per cent being spent in the rest of the Asia-Pacific.

‘Public health care spending should be boosted by at least two percent (based on 2001 levels) to make quality public health care services affordable to the poorest people.’

Other recommendations to reduce child mortality include focussing health resources on areas with the highest rates of child mortality; strengthening health systems by involving communities in preventative public health interventions; and providing ongoing care from the beginning of pregnancy through the birth of a child and into adolescence.

The report is available at www.unicef.org.nz


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