Investments in Global Health Reduce Child Mortality by Almost Half

September 18, 2012 By Molly Lester

Millennium Development Goal 4 (MDG 4) calls for reducing the child mortality rate by two-thirds by 2015.  At a CSIS-hosted event on Capitol Hill last Thursday, leaders in the global health community came together to celebrate successful efforts to reduce deaths in children under five and discuss ways forward to achieve the goal set by United Nations (UN) countries in 2000.  Dr. Tessa Wardlaw, UNICEF Associate Director of Statistics and Monitoring, presented key findings in the new UN report, “Levels and Trends in Child Mortality,” while Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) and USAID Administrator Raj Shah highlighted U.S. efforts to reduce child mortality around the world.

The event praised the significant progress made in the last 20 years to reduce child mortality –  a 41% reduction worldwide since 1990 – and reaffirmed the importance of investment in global health programs.  According to Shah, “Thirty years ago 46,000 children died every day, [but] today that number has fallen below 19,000.  It should serve as clear evidence to anyone who says that investments in health and development are wasted money, every one of those kids is living proof [to the contrary].”

The report, conducted by the UN Inter-agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation – comprised of UNICEF, WHO, World Bank, and UN – showed significant decreases in the overall rate of child mortality spread throughout all regions of the world.  An even more encouraging sign, according to Dr. Wardlaw, is the rate of decline is accelerating, from 1.8% in the 1990s to 3.2% between 2000 and 2011.  Administrator Shah stressed that gains in reducing child mortality highly correlate with strong U.S. leadership and investment in health programs, such as in Bangladesh, where the child mortality rate declined by two-thirds since 1990.

Shah made a point of praising House and Senate appropriators for providing funding for global health programs at or above the President’s FY13 request, and urged all Members of Congress to support the funding levels in final FY13 appropriations and future years.  Rep. McCollum urged continued vigilance by Congress and others in the global health community, saying, “We’re on the right path, but we have a lot more work to do.”

All speakers agreed that the way forward is clear: sustained investment, country-led action plans, and using technological innovations to empower families and communities to save lives.  Many obstacles remain, but sustained U.S. leadership will be critical to maintaining or accelerating the rate of decline to achieve MDG 4 by the 2015 deadline.   As Shah concluded in his remarks, “Pursuing this work is not only morally the right thing to do, it is deeply in our national security interests, [and] it is very much in the economic prosperity interests of the countries in which we work.  We know that.”