Science-- there's something for everyone

Sunday, June 10, 2012

UN Millennium Development Goal number four

The United Nations has put forth eight ‘Millennium Development Goals’(MDG) aimed at improving the health and happiness of people all over the world. These are rather ambitious goals. The first one is to end poverty and hunger, and the second to ensure that every child on Earth receive at least a primary school education. Did I mention that these projects are to be accomplished by the year 2015?

The fourth goal is to reduce by two thirds (from a base 1990 rate) the child mortality rate (the number of children who die before the age of five). Researchers from Johns Hopkins, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the University of Edinburgh and the World Health Organization analyzed the causes of death for children under age five over the past decade to see whether MDG 4 is on track.

The scientists found that 64% of all early childhood deaths were due to infections, half of these from pneumonia, diarrhoea or malaria. 40% of deaths occurred within the first month of life, the majority of these from pre-term birth complications (still births and late miscarriages).

There were some striking differences in mortality rates in different regions. Everywhere except Africa, around 50% of deaths occurred within the first month of life. In Africa, only 30% of childhood deaths occurred during the neonatal stage. Not surprisingly, children in Africa also suffered from much higher rates of malaria and AIDS than those from any other regions. Death from injury was much more common in the Americas than anywhere else.

The good news is that this represents a decrease in childhood mortality by about 25% over the past decade. Most of this improvement is due to a reduction in infections. Unfortunately, there has not been a compensatory decrease in neonatal deaths, and without that, we’ll never reach the UN’s MDG 4.

In case you’re interested, here are the other five goals:
  • MDG 3: Promote gender equality and empower women.
  • MDG 5: Improve Maternal health by reducing maternal mortality and providing reproductive health care.
  • MDG 6: Combat HIV/AIDS and other diseases
  • MDG 7: Ensure environmental sustainability
  • MDG 8: Develop a global partnership with developing countries