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Aiming to Eliminate Preventable Child Deaths

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Photo: Stuart Price/UN Photo

Mothers sit with their malnourished and dehydrated children in a ward at Banadir Hospital in Mogadishu.

Atlanta, Georgia — The world is winning the fight to keep children alive, and preventable child deaths may, at some point in the near future, be a thing of the past, according to Carolyn Miles, president and CEO of Save the Children.

"The tide is turning on child survival,” said Miles as she opened the 61st annual meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene in Atlanta. “In 2011, for the first time, annual deaths of children under five years old fell below seven million – that's a reduction of 41 percent in 20 years, and progress is accelerating… I believe we can see near zero preventable child deaths in our lifetime."

Reducing the under-five child mortality rate by two-thirds between 1990 and 2015 is one of the eight United Nations Millennium Development Goals. The UN says death rates are falling but not quickly enough to reach that target.

In her keynote speech, “Newborn and Child Survival: The Winnable Fight”, Miles said that, although more children are reaching their fifth birthday, there are still about 19,000 others who die every day from preventable and treatable illnesses, such as pneumonia, malaria and diarrhea.

Forty percent of child deaths occur in the first month of life, she said.

"More than one million preterm babies die shortly after birth every year, but 75 percent of these deaths could be avoided if inexpensive, simple prevention and treatment tools are available to mothers and practitioners around the world," Miles said.

She cited some of the most effective interventions as Kangaroo Mother Care, which involves keeping the infant against the mother to keep babies warm, newborn resuscitation to get them breathing, and awareness of danger signs to trigger treatment for possible severe bacterial infections.

In addition, Miles said community-based care and home visits are making a difference. Seventy-seven countries, including Malawi, have reduced their newborn mortality rate by more than 25 percent with early intervention.

"If we can give a newborn the healthiest possible start in life, we give him a better chance at a healthy and resilient childhood – and a much stronger opportunity to grow into a healthy adult," she said.

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