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About 20 million children die every year , very often from preventable causes. Estimates vary depending on the age limit definition of still being a child. Child mortality in this article (at present) refers to under-5 mortality, which is the death of infants and children under the age of five. In 2008, 8.8 million children under five died, down from 9.2 million in 2007, and 12.7 million in 1990. About half of child deaths occur in Africa. Approximately 60 countries make up 94% of under five child deaths.

According to an estimate by UNICEF, one million child deaths could be prevented annually at a cost of $US 1 billion per year (an average of $US 1000 for each child). Reduction of child mortality is the fourth of the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals.


During ancient times and the Middle Ages, the child mortality rate was about 200 deaths per 1,000 live births and the under-5 mortality rate was about 300 deaths per 1,000 live births .


According to UNICEF, most child deaths (and 70% in developing countries) result from one the following five causes or a combination thereof:

Two-thirds of deaths are preventable. Malnutrition and the lack of safe water and sanitation contribute to half of all these children’s deaths. Research and experience show that most of the children who die each year could be saved by low-tech, evidence-based, cost-effective measures such as vaccines, antibiotics, micronutrient supplementation, insecticide-treated bed nets, improved family care and breastfeeding practices, and oral rehydration therapy. In addition to providing vaccines and antibiotics to children, education could also be provided to mothers about how they can make simple changes to living conditions such as improving hygiene in order to increase the health of her children. Mothers who are educated will also have increased confidence in the ability to take care of her children, therefore providing a healthier relationship and environment for them.


The child mortality rate or under-5 mortality rate is the number of children who die by the age of five, per thousand live births. In 2007, the world average was 68 (6.8%). In 2006, the average in developing countries was 79 (down from 103 in 1990), whereas the average in industrialized countries was 6 (down from 10 in 1990). One in six children in Sub-Saharan Africa die before their fifth birthday. The biggest improvement between 1990 and 2006 was in Latin America and the Caribbean, which cut their child mortality rates by 50%. The world's child mortality rate has dropped by over 60% since 1960.

A child in Sierra Leone, which has the world's highest child mortality rate (262 in 2007) is about 87 times more likely to die than one born in Sweden (with a rate of 3).

According to the World Health Organization hunger and malnutrition are the biggest causes of child mortality in developing countries. In almost all cases of child mortality malnutrition is present majority of the cases (WHO). 1 child dies every 5 seconds as a result of hunger - 700 every hour - 16 000 each day - 6 million each year - 60% of all child deaths (2002-2008 estimates).

Highest rates in the world

In 2007, there were 37 countries in which at least 10% of children under five died, down from 41 in 2006. All were in Africa, except for Afghanistan. Seven of the 37 had higher rates of child mortality than in 1990. The highest 20 were:

In deaths per thousand

  1. Sierra Leonemarker - 262
  2. Afghanistanmarker - 257
  3. Chadmarker - 209
  4. Equatorial Guineamarker - 206
  5. Guinea-Bissaumarker - 198
  6. Malimarker - 196
  7. Burkina Fasomarker - 191
  8. Nigeriamarker - 189
  9. Rwandamarker - 181
  10. Burundimarker - 180
  11. Nigermarker - 176
  12. Central African Republicmarker - 172
  13. Zambiamarker - 170
  14. Mozambiquemarker - 168
  15. Democratic Republic of the Congomarker - 161
  16. Angolamarker - 158
  17. Guineamarker - 150
  18. Cameroonmarker - 148
  19. Somaliamarker - 142
  20. Liberiamarker - 133


  1. MSN September 10, 2009
  2. UNICEF press release Sept. 12, 2008
  3. The Lancet. Child survival special issue.
  4. UNICEF Facts on Children - May 2008
  5. UNICEF - Health - the big picture
  6. UNICEF - Health
  7. UNICEF - Young child survival and development.
  8. UNICEF MDG Goal 4
  9. New formula for oral rehydration salts will save millions of lives
  10. UNICEF - State of the World's Children 2008
  11. UNICEF - Sweden statistics
  12. Food and Agriculture Organization Staff. “The State of Food Insecurity in the World, 2002: Food Insecurity : when People Live with Hunger and Fear Starvation”. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2002, p. 6. “6 million children under the age of five, die each year as a result of hunger.”
  13. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations Economic and Social Dept. “The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2004: Monitoring Progress Towards the World Food Summit and Millennium Development Goals”. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2004, p. 8. “Undernourishment and deficiencies in essential vitamins and minerals cost more than 5 million children their lives every year”.
  14. Jacques Diouf. “The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2004: Monitoring Progress Towards the World Food Summit and Millennium Development Goals”. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2004, p. 4. “one child dies every five seconds as a result of hunger and malnutrition”.
  15. Food and Agriculture Organization, Economic and Social Dept. “The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2005: Eradicating World Hunger - Key to Achieving the Millennium Development Goals”. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2005, p. 18. “Hunger and malnutrition are the underlying cause of more than half of all child deaths, killing nearly 6 million children each year – a figure that is roughly equivalent to the entire preschool population of Japan. Relatively few of these children die of starvation. The vast majority are killed by neonatal disorders and a handful of treatable infectious diseases, including diarrhoea, pneumonia, malaria and measles. Most would not die if their bodies and immune systems had not been weakened by hunger and malnutrition moderately to severely underweight, the risk of death is five to eight times higher.”.
  16. Human Rights Council. “Resolution 7/14. The right to food”. United Nations, March 27, 2008, p. 3. “6 million children still die every year from hunger-related illness before their fifth birthday”.
  17. UNICEF - Info by Country

See also

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