Global child deaths on decline

But at 8.8 million in 2008, mortality for those under age 5 is still staggeringly high

The death rate among children under age 5 stood at 8.8 million worldwide in 2008, down from 10.6 million eight years earlier, researchers report online May 12 in Lancet. More than two-thirds of the deaths in 2008 were caused by infectious diseases, with diarrhea, pneumonia and malaria taking the greatest toll.

EARLY FATALITIES | Infectious diseases, led by pneumonia and diarrhea, were responsible for the largest proportion of the reported 8.8 million deaths in children under age 5 in 2008. Percentages of all major causes of death are shown in this chart. The orange bars highlight the most common causes of death occurring before 1 month of age, including those from pneumonia and diarrhea. Adapted from R.E. Black et al./Lancet

“Virtually all of this is preventable in some way,” says study coauthor Robert Black, a medical epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in Baltimore. Vaccines can ward off pneumonia, measles, pertussis, tetanus and a rotavirus that causes diarrhea.

China, India, Nigeria, Pakistan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo had the most child deaths in the study period. China’s childhood mortality rate, however, has declined substantially since 2000, Black notes, because of its improving economy. Vietnam has also improved.

In contrast, African nations continue to have the world’s highest mortality rates among young children, largely from famine, poor nutrition, malaria and other infectious diseases — all problems that can be exacerbated by poor governance, Black says. Malawi, where child deaths are on the decline, stands out as an exception.

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