THURSDAY, Sept. 19, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- Even in the best-case scenario, only 15 countries are projected to meet targets to reduce child deaths by 2035, a new study says.
The targets were set by international health agencies as a follow-up to the Millennium Development Goals,a United Nations initiative that expires in 2015.
Rates of child and mother deaths have fallen in most countries since 2000, when the Millennium Development Goals were set. However, efforts to improve mothers' and children's health must intensify to keep achieving significant reductions in the number of child deaths in low- and middle-income countries, according to the authors of the study, which appears Sept. 19 in The Lancet.
"While falling rates of maternal and child deaths are to be welcomed, our analysis shows that if historical trends continue, there will still be 5.4 million deaths in children under 5 in 2035," lead author Dr. Neff Walker, of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said in a journal news release.
"This number could be more than halved if all countries were able to match the performance of countries which have made the best improvements in recent years," Walker added. "Governments -- both of the countries most affected by maternal and child deaths, and of nations providing development assistance -- must redouble their efforts to deliver known and proven interventions at high and sustained levels and search for new interventions that will save the lives of more children."
He and his colleagues analyzed data from 69 low- and middle-income nations. Fifty-eight of the countries included in the study were from 75 "Countdown to 2015" countries, which account for more than 90 percent of all mother and child deaths worldwide.
"Countdown to 2015" is a movement of academics, governments, international agencies, health-care professional associations, donors, and nongovernmental organizations worldwide that works in partnership with The Lancet to support progress toward meeting the Millennium goals.
The researchers used the results from the 69 countries to project deaths to 2035 for all Countdown countries except South Sudan, for which there was too little data.
If current trends continue, the number of countries where the death rate for children younger than age 5 would be less than 20 per 1,000 would increase from four of the 74 Countdown countries in 2010 to nine in 2035, according to the study. However, if all countries matched the improvements seen in the best-performing countries, 15 of the 74 Countdown countries would be able to achieve that lower death rate.
Put another way, the number of under-5 deaths in the 74 Countdown countries would decrease from 7.6 million in 2010 to 5.4 million in 2035 if current trends continue, and fall to 2.3 million deaths if all countries could match the improvements in the best-performing countries.
"Both malaria and HIV interventions were introduced in the late 1990s, and benefited from high financial investment and political commitment. They are examples of what is possible, and of what needs to be done for other highly effective maternal and child health interventions," Walker said.
"The challenge to the global public health community is clear: Ways to reach more women and children with the full range of effective interventions need to be identified," he added.
The World Health Organization has more about child deaths worldwide.