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Kids’ Deaths Halved But 6 Million Still Die Every Year: UNICEF

Image: Israeli airstrike kills 4 Palestinian children in Gaza

Relatives mourn four Palestinian children killed in Israeli airstrike while they were playing on the beach in Gaza City on July 16. Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Nearly 6 million kids under the age of 5 die every year — a horrific number, but that’s a 53 percent drop since 1990, a new report from UNICEF finds.

Many more lives can be saved with some low-cost efforts, including prenatal care, helping women breastfeed, immunizing babies and moms, treating mosquito nets with insecticide to prevent malaria, giving antibiotics to treat pneumonia and providing supplemented food, the United Nations childrens’ agency said.

“Under-five deaths have dropped from 12.7 million per year in 1990 to 5.9 million in 2015. This is the first year the figure has gone below the 6 million mark,” UNICEF said in a statement.

“Since 1990 the number of preventable child deaths has been cut in half. That’s great and a reason to celebrate,” said Dr. Linda Arnold of the Academy of Pediatrics.

"Every five seconds a child died from preventable causes somewhere in the world."

But it’s not all good news, she added.

“There are still over 16,000 children under 5 that die from preventable causes every day,” Arnold told reporters.

Nearly half, 45 percent, of all these deaths are in the first month of life. Babies who are premature or who catch pneumonia or diarrhea right after birth are vulnerable. Many die from birth complications that just a little training can prevent, according to the report from UNICEF, the World Bank, and the World Health Organization.

“There are about a million babies that die the day they are born. These are things we know how to fix and prevent,” Arnold said.

“We know how to prevent unnecessary newborn mortality. Quality care around the time of childbirth including simple affordable steps like ensuring early skin-to-skin contact, exclusive breastfeeding and extra care for small and sick babies can save thousands of lives every year,” said Dr. Flavia Bustreo, Assistant Director General at WHO.

And nearly half of all kids under five who die are malnourished — another problem that’s not difficult to remedy.

Arnold said her pediatrics organization and other groups back a bill that would require the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to develop a strategy to end preventable deaths of mothers and their children.

“There are about a million babies thatdie the day they are born. These are things we know how to fix and prevent."

The Reach Every Mother and Child Act would make sure USAID focuses on the poorest and most vulnerable populations, using set targets.

Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, and Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat, are sponsoring the bill, which they say won’t cost extra money.

“The Reach Act would increase interagency coordination and build new partnerships with the private sector to better implement U.S. government strategy with the goal of ending preventable maternal, newborn, and child deaths by 2035,” Collins said in a statement.

“What people don’t realize is that foreign aid for global health is less than 1 percent of the U.S. budget,” Arnold said.