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Why child survival?
Almost seven million children worldwide die under the age of five every year. In 2011, one in nine children in sub-Saharan Africa died before their fifth birthday. Yet the scientific evidence (from the landmark 2003 Lancet Child Survival Series) suggests that almost two-thirds of these deaths could be avoided by increasing coverage of simple, existing and affordable interventions, such as exclusive breastfeeding, hand washing, better care for newborns and their mothers, and the prevention and case management of pneumonia, diarrhoea and sepsis. In countries with high child mortality rates, these interventions could reduce the number of deaths by more than 50 per cent.
The pie chart on the right shows the main causes of death among children under five in sub-Saharan Africa (mouse over segments to view each cause).
Child survival is one of our main focus areas (as one aspect of a range of issues along the continuum of care for reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health). This is for two reasons. The first is that it is an urgent global health priority, made all the more urgent by the fact that so many under-five deaths are easily preventable. The second is that we are uniquely well placed to reduce the number of these unnecessary under-five deaths, by educating parents and making them adopt behaviours that improve the health, and thus the survival prospects, of their children.
Child survival is a huge global priority at the moment. Many countries in Africa will fail to meet their target, enshrined in Millennium Development Goal 4, of reducing child mortality by two-thirds between 1990 and 2015. In June 2012, the United States hosted a global summit, the Child Survival Call to Action, to accelerate progress towards this target. Now more than ever, cost-effective and proven interventions such as mass media are a key part of the final push to end unnecessary child deaths.