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Childhood Mortality Worldwide May Be Lower Than Thought

Mortality rates declined by about 60 percent since 1970; poor countries show accelerated progress

MONDAY, May 24 (HealthDay News) -- Among children younger than 5, the annual global death toll may be 820,000 lower than the latest UNICEF estimate, as there has been progress in many poorer countries toward achieving the Millennium Development Goal 4 of reducing mortality in this age group by two-thirds between 1990 and 2015, according to an article published online May 24 in The Lancet.

Julie Knoll Rajaratnam, Ph.D., of the University of Washington in Seattle, and colleagues analyzed 1970 to 2010 data from 187 countries. Their analysis was the first to use Gaussian process regression to estimate child mortality, a technique that improves estimates when there are limited or no data.

The researchers estimated that worldwide mortality in children under the age of 5 years decreased from 11.9 million deaths in 1990 to 7.7 million deaths in 2010, and found that child mortality rates worldwide have declined by about 60 percent since 1970. Although they found that most deaths in children occur in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia (49.6 and 33 percent, respectively), they identified 13 regions worldwide -- including all regions in sub-Saharan Africa -- where there is evidence of accelerating declines from 2000 to 2010 compared with 1990 to 2000. The authors also note that the most recent estimate of under-5 child mortality provided by UNICEF is 8.77 million in 2008, higher than their estimate of 7.95 million.

"Rapidly reducing child deaths must remain a global health priority," the authors conclude. "This reduction will be aided by regular, careful, and rigorous assessments with new and comparable methods that inspire confidence in the level, and more importantly, the rate of decline of child mortality worldwide."

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