Child and maternal mortality are both important global issues, so much so that in 2000, the UN highlighted them within its Millenium Development Initiative. This involved eight goals aimed at reducing some of the world’s biggest issues by 2015, including eradicating poverty and hunger and combatting HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases.
Development goal number four relates to child mortality. Child mortality is classified in this case as deaths of children younger than five years old. The goal is to reduce child mortality by two thirds between 1980 and 2015. In 2008, there were still 8.8 million child deaths, despite some progress having been made.
The fifth development goal aims to reduce maternal mortality by 75% in the same time frame as for child mortality. Maternal mortality is classed as deaths whilst pregnant, during child birth or within 42 days of giving birth. Approximately 350,000 deaths fell within this category in 2008.
Across the world, rates of child and maternal mortality vary greatly, and a handful of countries make up the majority of these deaths. Just five countries’ child deaths make up 49% of the worldwide total. Similarly, 50% of maternal deaths took place in six countries.
The global rates of child mortality are decreasing, despite a general increase in the population of children under 5. However, the contrast across countries is extreme. In 2008, 4000 children died in the UK, compared to 1.8 million in India alone. The contrast is especially prominent when comparing developed areas to those classified as ‘developing’. In Europe, there were 150,000 child deaths in 2008, compared to over 4 million in Sub Saharan Africa – close to half of all the children who died that year worldwide. A contrast can also be seen in the proportion of neonatal deaths across these areas. 53% of child deaths are neonatal in Europe, whereas in Africa, only 29% of deaths fall within this sub category. This shows that even past the crucial 28 days old stage, there is still a high likelihood that a child may die before its fifth birthday.
Causes differ from country to country too, especially seen in the contrast between developing and developed countries. In Europe, 37% of deaths in children are caused by pre term birth complications, congenital abnormalities and birth asphyxia. These causes amount to only 18% of child deaths in Sub Saharan Africa, where the main causes are malaria, pneumonia and diarrhoea (16%, 18% and 19% respectively). This is much closer to the worldwide average, where infectious diseases such as these are the cause of 68% of child deaths.
The global maternal mortality rate has also declined in recent years, at an average rate of 1.3% a year. The maternal mortality rate (MMR) is assessed as the number of maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. In 1980, the worldwide average was 422, but by 2008, this had dropped to 251. Despite being good progress, this is nowhere near the 75% targeted by the UN. Only 23 countries are on target to reach this. As with child mortality, the progress varies. Between 1980 and 2008, the amount of maternal deaths has decreased 8.8% in the Maldives, yet increased by 5.5% in Zimbabwe. Again, the UK has a very low mortality rate in such cases, with an MMR of only 8. This can be compared to the opposite end of the spectrum with Afghanistan, which in 2008 had 1,575 deaths per 100,000 live births, only slightly reduced from their MMR of 1640 in 1980. The contrast can again be shown between developed and developing areas, with an average MMR of 7 in Europe, yet an average of 629 in Western Sub Saharan Africa.
In conclusion, although efforts have gone some way towards meeting these goals, among the others laid out in the UN’s Millennium Development Initiative, much more is needed. Many countries are highly unlikely to meet the targets, even with significant further help and projects aimed at these particular issues.