The number of children who died before their fifth birthday has reached a historic low, dropping to 4.9 million in 2022, the latest report by the United Nations Inter-agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation showed.

The UN IGME is led by the United Nations Children’s Fund and includes the World Health Organization, the World Bank Group, and the Population Division of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

The report released on Wednesday revealed that more children are surviving today than ever before, with the global under-five mortality rate declining by 51 per cent since 2000.

It said several low- and lower-middle-income countries have outpaced this decline, showing that progress is possible when resources are sufficiently allocated to primary health care, including child health and well-being.

“For example, the findings show that Cambodia, Malawi, Mongolia, and Rwanda have reduced under-five mortality by over 75 per cent since 2000”.

The findings, however, showed that despite this progress, there is still a long road ahead to end all preventable child and youth deaths.

“In addition to the 4.9 million lives lost before the age of five – nearly half of which were newborns – the lives of another 2.1 million children and youth aged five to 24 were also cut short. Most of these deaths were concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia,” it noted.

UNICEF Executive Director, Catherine Russell said, “Behind these numbers lie the stories of midwives and skilled health personnel helping mothers safely deliver their newborns, health workers vaccinating and protecting children against deadly diseases, and community health workers who make home visits to support families to ensure the right health and nutrition support for children.

“Through decades of commitment by individuals, communities, and nations to reach children with low-cost, quality, and effective health services, we’ve shown that we have the knowledge and tools to save lives.”

The report added that the loss of life is primarily due to preventable or treatable causes, such as preterm birth, complications around the time of birth, pneumonia, diarrhoea, and malaria.

It said many lives could have been saved with better access to high-quality primary health care, including essential, low-cost interventions, such as vaccinations, availability of skilled health personnel at birth, vaccinations, support for early and continued breastfeeding, and diagnosis and treatment of childhood illnesses.

“While there has been welcome progress, every year millions of families still suffer the devastating heartbreak of losing a child, often in the very first days after birth,” said WHO Director General, Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus.

“Where a child is born should not dictate whether they live or die. It is critical to improve access to quality health services for every woman and child, including during emergencies and in remote areas.”

The report noted that improving access to quality health services and saving children’s lives from preventable deaths requires investment in education, jobs, and decent working conditions for health workers to deliver primary health care, including community health workers.

It also said as trusted community members, community health workers play an important role in reaching children and families in every community with life-saving health services like vaccinations, testing and medicine for deadly yet treatable illnesses, and nutrition support.

“This year’s report is an important milestone showing that less children die before their fifth birthday,” said the Global Director for Health, Nutrition and Population, World Bank & Director, Global Financing Facility for Women, Children and Adolescents, Dr. Juan Pablo Uribe. “But this is simply not enough. We need to accelerate progress with more investments, collaboration, and focus to end preventable child deaths and honor our global commitment. We owe it to all children to ensure they have access to the same health care and opportunities, regardless of where they are born.”

It said while the global numbers show welcome signs of progress, some substantive threats and inequities jeopardize child survival in many parts of the world.

“The new estimates show that strengthening access to high-quality health care, especially around the time of birth, helps to reduce mortality among children under age 5,” said the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Li Junhua. “While the milestones in the reduction of child mortality are important to track progress, they should also remind us that further efforts and investments are needed to reduce inequities and end preventable deaths among newborns, children, and youth worldwide.”

The report further indicated that at current rates, 59 countries will miss the SDG under-five mortality target, and 64 countries will fall short of the newborn mortality goal. That means an estimated 35 million children will die before reaching their fifth birthday by 2030—a death toll that will largely be borne by families in sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia or low- and lower-middle-income countries.

“The report also notes large gaps in data, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia, where the mortality burden is high. Data and statistical systems must be improved to better track and monitor child survival and health, including indicators on mortality and health via household surveys, birth, and death registration through Health Management Information Systems, and Civil Registration and Vital Statistics,” it concluded.