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WHO calls for intensified actions to reduce high infant and under-five mortality

Fifty-sixth session of the WHO Regional Committee for the Western Pacific, 19 to 23 September 2005

Noumea, New Caledonia—Some 3 000 children in the Western Pacific Region under five years of age will continue to die every day—mostly from common neonatal conditions, pneumonia and diarrhoea—unless there is greater commitment and resource mobilization by countries and areas in the Region, the World Health Organization said.

Most of these child deaths could be avoided were it not for the lack of basic health care or barriers that prevent families securing care, WHO added.

At a meeting here, the Regional Committee for the Western Pacific, WHO's governing body in the Region, urged Member States, particularly those with high child mortality rates, to place child health higher on their political, economic and health agendas.

One of United Nations' Millennium Development Goals—to cut under-five child mortality by two thirds between 1990 and 2015—will not be met unless there are greater efforts.

In response, WHO and the United Nation's Children's Fund (UNICEF) have developed a joint Regional Child Survival Strategy that aims to reduce inequities in child survival and to accelerate and sustain actions to reduce childhood mortality.

The Regional Committee is set to endorse the strategy, which advocates that all children in the Region be given access to an essential package of interventions for child survival, particularly in countries and areas of greatest need.

Member States will need to translate the Regional Strategy into country-specific commitments for accelerated and sustained child survival actions in countries and areas in the Region.

The strategy addresses issues such as a lack of focus on the major causes of mortality, failure to invest sufficiently in the delivery of proven child survival interventions, and competing priorities and inadequate coordination among stakeholders.

Addressing the Regional Committee, Dr Shigeru Omi, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, said, "Improving child health will benefit the economic and social development of the Member States, provide a major contribution to sustainable poverty reduction, and guarantee that the rights of children are fulfilled."

The weak status of child survival can be traced to insufficient funding. Dr Omi noted that without significantly increased human and financial resources to match the magnitude of the problem, there is little hope that the needs for improved child survival will be met. "Improved child survival will not be possible without the determination to give children a voice and commitment to place child health high on the political, economic and development agenda. Increased financial commitments of both national governments and donors also are needed," Dr Omi said.

Following an impressive decline in child mortality in the 1980s, the reduction rate has now slowed down in the Region. Infant and under-five mortality rates are even increasing in some countries and areas.

The Regional Committee is meeting in Noumea, New Caledonia from 19 to 23 September, to review WHO's work in the last year and to discuss health directions for the future.


Fact Sheet

Western Pacific / East Asia Region

  • Some 3 000 children under five years of age die every day in the Western Pacific Region from common preventable and treatable conditions, including diarrhoea, pneumonia and perinatal events. Many of these deaths are associated with undernutrition. (Globally, undernutrition contributes to 61% of deaths from diarrhoea, 57% from malaria, 52% from pneumonia and 45% from measles.) Vaccine preventable diseases and injuries further contribute to this high number of childhood deaths.
  • Six countries in the Region—Cambodia, China, the Lao People's Democratic Republic, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines and Viet Nam—account for more than 75% of all deaths among children under five.
  • As many as 800 000 children under five will die every year in Cambodia, China, the Lao People's Democratic Republic, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines and Viet Nam if current trends continue.
  • Acute lower respiratory infections are the single most important cause of death (20%) among children under five years old, with diarrhoea a close second cause (17%). Measles remains a cause of 2% of childhood deaths. HIV/AIDS is an emerging problem in the Region and is related to about 1% of mortality among children under five, primarily through mother-to-child transmission.
  • Maternal health and nutrition status before and around conception, as well as during pregnancy, significantly influence fetal development and the potential for survival after birth. Of the 30 000 maternal deaths every year in the Region, more than 40% occur in Cambodia, the Lao People's Democratic Republic, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines and Viet Nam.
  • About 20% of the population of the Region still lacks access to safe water for drinking and food preparation, and nearly 1 billion people lack access to adequate sanitation. These factors underlie almost 90% of the deaths from diarrhoea. Countries with the lowest level of access are those that have the highest rates of under-five mortality.

For more information, please contact:

Dr Marianna Trias, WHO medical officer, email: .

Mr Peter Cordingley, public information officer/spokesman, at (68 7) 951635 or email: .

Ms Marilu Lingad, Assistant, Public Information Office, at (687) 951 636 or email: .

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