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Child deaths target could be achieved easily, but time is running out

Friday, 27 June 2003

10.8 million children in poor countries are dying unnecessarily because simple, life-saving interventions costing just a few pence are not being delivered to the mothers and children who desperately need them, child health experts warn today.

The findings, outlined in How many child deaths can we prevent this year? part of a special series on child health being launched today in the Lancet, reveal that 6 out of 10 of these deaths (63%) could be avoided if interventions known to be effective in reducing death rates in children were adopted universally in the 42 countries currently shouldering 90% of the burden of child mortality.

In 2002, as part of the Millennium Development Goals for Health, the UN pledged to ensure a two-thirds reduction in the child mortality rate by 2015, from the base year in 1990. But halfway towards the target date, time is running out. Little progress has been made and millions of children's lives are being cut short unnecessarily.

Some of the most promising interventions are the easiest to implement, and can be delivered in the home; the promotion of breastfeeding, for example, and oral rehydration therapy which, together, are estimated to prevent over 10% of deaths. If, in addition to these, appropriate complementary feeding and the use of insecticide-treated materials in malarious areas were encouraged, over a third of all deaths could be avoided.

'The child survival effort has lost his focus', comments Dr Saul Morris of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, one of the paper's authors. 'The attention and effort directed at preventing the small proportion of child deaths due to AIDS with new, complex and expensive interventions appears to be outstripping efforts to save millions of children every year with interventions which would only cost a few pence. This has got to change. Remarkable progress could be made in all countries, regardless of their epidemiological profile, using interventions available today and feasible for implementation in low-income countries. The challenge is to act on what we already know and deliver the interventions we have at our disposal to the children, mothers and families who most need them', he concludes.

To interview Dr Morris, please contact the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine's Press Office on 020 7927 2073. Read the full article at www.thelancet.com

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