While the Asia Pacific region has made significant gains in reducing infant mortality over the past two decades, a new United Nations Childrens’ Fund report is calling on regional governments to increase spending on public health to achieve the target set by the UN millennium development goals.
UNICEF releases its annual report on the state of Asia-Pacific children
Immunisation has played a key role in reducing infant mortality rates across the Asia Pacific, together with increased spending over the past two decades. But a United Nations Children’s Fund – UNICEF – report released Tuesday warns countries against complacency to ensure the target of a two thirds reduction in infant and mortality rates is achieved under the U.N. millennium goals by 2015.
Diseases such as pneumonia and diarrhoea account for around one third of deaths in Eastern Asia, South Eastern Asia and the Pacific, climbing to almost 40 per cent in South Asia, the UNICEF report "The State of Asia Pacific’s children 2008" says.
Under-Five death rate
Anupama Rao Singh, the regional director for UNICEF, warns that while much progress has been achieved in lowering infant mortality rates since the 1970s the signs are of a slowing in the rate of decline in recent years. “The good dimension of it is that many countries are on track to achieving the millennium development goal of reducing infant and child mortality by two thirds by 2015.”
But the absolute numbers of under-five child deaths in the region remain significant. In 2006 Asia Pacific accounted for 40 per cent of the global total or about four million children who died before their fifth birthday.
The main causes of deaths are neonatal linked to insufficient maternal health care services, maternal under nutrition and cultural practices surrounding the birth process. Other key causes of child deaths are pneumonia and diarrhoea diseases.
Role of India and China
But India and China hold the key to the region achieving its millennium development goals, says Rao Singh. “China is really addressing mortality and child deaths in the first four weeks of life. China is in terms of the national averages and norms clearly on a path of achieving the millennium development goal of two thirds reduction. India is different. India has to focus much more on accelerating the decline in mortality as a whole and do it much faster than China is planning to do if it is to reach the MDGs.”
The UNICEF report says India needs to increase spending on health services, water and sanitation, and education. In 2006 over two million children under five died.
Rao Singh says increased public health spending, reducing income disparities and ending gender discrimination are necessary to improve child survival rates. “Additional resources need to be generated and they need to be focussed and targeted on those parts of countries or those populations most in need. The quality of health services needs to improve and communities need to be involved in making them better.”
In South East Asia, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and East Timor are all lagging in achieving the improved survival rates. In East Timor almost half of children below five years are under weight.