Sub-Saharan African children at far higher risk of early death

UN reports 2.7 million youngsters in Sahel died before reaching their fifth birthday in 2020

A mother and daughter in Iferouane, Niger. The UN has identified vast inequalities between the Sahel region and elsewhere. AFP
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Children born in sub-Saharan Africa are 15 times more likely to die in early childhood than those in Europe and North America, UN data released on Tuesday indicates.

Reports led by UN agencies Unicef and the World Health Organisation (WHO) found vast inequalities between regions, with children in the Sahel at a far higher risk of early death than anywhere else.

According to UN data, 2.7 million children in sub-Saharan Africa died before reaching their fifth birthday in 2020, representing 54 per cent of all deaths globally of children aged under five. South Asia accounted for 27 per cent of those deaths in 2020. Both regions continue to face the steepest odds of survival in the world.

If swift action is not taken to improve health services, the UN agencies estimate almost 59 million children and youths will die before 2030, and nearly 16 million babies will be lost to stillbirth.

Although substantial progress has been made in the past few decades, Danzhen You, chief of demographics and senior adviser of statistics and monitoring for Unicef, told The National that the task of ending preventable childhood deaths remains unfinished.

“Global progress masks disparities between and within regions and countries," the researcher said. "The two regions that account for the highest burden of child mortality and stillbirth, sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, still suffer from low and inequitable coverage of key maternal, newborn, adolescent and child health interventions."

She called for better data to protect every child and pointed out that as long as data availability and quality gaps persist, policies and programmes designed to improve childhood survival and well-being will “fall short”.

If current trends continue, 54 countries will fail to meet the Sustainable Development Goals target for under-five mortality by 2030, and 61 will miss the neonatal mortality target.

The goals call for an end to preventable deaths of newborns and children under five, with all countries aiming to have a neonatal mortality rate of 12 or fewer deaths per 1,000 live births, and an under-five mortality rate of 25 or fewer deaths per 1,000 live births, by 2030.

Updated: January 10, 2023, 4:03 PM