EDITORIAL: Frightening Statistics On Child Mortality

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Frightening statistics just released by the United Nations Children Fund, UNICEF, in its latest report, reveals that Nigeria loses about 2,300 under-five year olds and 145 women of child bearing age every single day. By this figure, the country occupies the unenviable position as the second largest contributor to under-five and maternal mortality rate in the world!

The report also indicated that 15,000 children died globally before their fifth birthday in 2016, with 46 per cent of the deaths (7,000) occurring in the first 28 days of life mostly in two regions- Southern Asia (39 per cent) and sub-Saharan Africa (38 per cent).

The study continued and said that although the number of children dying before the age of five is at a new low of 5.6 million in 2016 compared to nearly 9.9 million in 2000 – the proportion of under-five deaths in the new-born period has increased from 41 per cent to 46 per cent during the same period.

The world body warned that at the current trend, 60 million children will die before their fifth birthday between 2017 and 2030, half of them new-borns. However, on the bright side, the report showed that 50 million children under-five have been saved since 2000 through increased level of commitment by governments and development partners to tackle preventable child deaths just it suggested that more still needed to be done to stop babies from dying the day they are born, or days after their birth. Furthermore, in the past 25 years, the world made significant progress in saving young children’s lives and added that this progress has not been universal even as the rate of child mortality fell 62 per cent from 1990–2016, with under-five deaths dropping from 12.7 million to 5.6 million.

Regrettably, the report stated that sepsis, pneumonia, tetanus and diarrhoea still top the list of infectious diseases which claim the lives of millions of children under-five globally. Also pre-term birth complications and complications during labour or child birth were blamed for 30 per cent of new-born deaths in 2016. Of the 5.6 million under-5 deaths, 2.6 million babies are stillborn each year, the majority of which it said could have been prevented.

The report pointed out that the Universal Health Coverage is still not as efficient and effective as it should be and stressed that the best measure of its success is that every mother should not only be able to access health care easily, but that it should be quality, affordable care that will ensure a healthy and productive life for her children and family. The latest report while noting that many lives could have been saved if global inequities were reduced, stressed that 87 per cent of under-five deaths would have been averted with almost five million lives saved in 2016 if all countries achieved the average mortality of high-income countries.

The report recommended that ending preventable child deaths can be achieved by improving access to skilled health-professionals during pregnancy and at the time of birth; lifesaving interventions, such as immunization, breastfeeding and inexpensive medicines; and increasing access to water and sanitation, that are currently beyond the reach of the world’s poorest communities.

Sadly, in our opinion, experts say these children are also dying because of who they are and the environment they were born into – whether it be an impoverished family, a marginalized community or a country consumed by conflict. Describing this as society’s injustice, they claim that children in the poorest households are nearly twice as likely to die before the age of five than those from the richest. The good news the report emphasised is that ending preventable new born and child deaths is possible – within our lifetime if there is a concerted, coordinated effort among policymakers, businesses, healthcare workers, communities and families directed towards working together to provide affordable, quality healthcare for every mother and child.

This is where the Nigerian government comes in as far as this effort is concerned. At current budgetary levels, the country will still continue to be a favourite of morbid statisticians. For instance, the 2017 budget makes a provision of a paltry 4.17 per cent or N304 billion of the N7.298 trillion of the total budget or, still, N1, 688 per citizen of the country. Is there any wonder, then, why Nigeria is the second largest contributor to under-five and maternal mortality rate in the world? The World Health Organisation (WHO) is insistent that for Nigeria to be seen to prioritise healthcare it must, at the least, spend a minimum of N6, 908 per Nigerian in a year, which when multiplied by 180 million people will amount to N1.2 trillion. Though a challenge, in our view, it is surmountable with the appropriate political will.