Five graphs to understand the decline in child mortality across the world

While the UN’s latest figures on child mortality show a significant improvement worldwide, several regions have experienced an increase.

Every 4.4 seconds, a young person under the age of 24 died in 2021. Despite the staggering figures, child mortality has been steadily decreasing, according to the latest report by the UN Inter-agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation. takes a look at the decline in five graphs.

1. Drop in deaths of five-year-olds

Over five million children died before their fifth birthday in 2021 – a decrease of roughly 60 per cent compared to the 1990s. Behind the figures, however, strong regional disparities exist. Approximately 17,000 children under the age of five died in western Europe, compared to some three million in sub-Saharan Africa and nearly two million in west and central Africa.

For the UN, the decline is far from a success. The organisation warned that “gains have reduced significantly since 2010, and 54 countries will fall short of meeting the Sustainable Development Goals target for under-5 mortality” by 2030.

The report’s authors predict that “unless swift action is taken to improve health services, nearly 59 million children and youth will die before the end of the decade, while nearly 16 million stillbirths are likely to occur.

2. Record mortality rate in Africa

Unsurprisingly, sub-Saharan Africa as well as west and central Africa, have the highest mortality rate for children under five.

According to Vidhya Ganesh, director of UNICEF's division of data, analysis, planning and monitoring, these deaths could have been prevented:

“Such widespread, preventable tragedy should never be accepted as inevitable. Progress is possible with stronger political will and targeted investment in equitable access to primary health care for every woman and child.”

The report released on Tuesday said: “Many of these deaths could have been prevented with equitable access and high-quality maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health care”.

3. Nigeria, the most affected country

Nigeria had the highest number of deaths of children under five – over 852,000 – in 2021. It is followed by:

  • India: 709,000 deaths

  • Pakistan: 399,000 deaths

  • Democratic Republic of Congo: 307,000 deaths

The mortality rate is highest in Africa, where 20 of the worst affected countries are located. Leading the list of the worst-hit nations are:

  • Niger: 115 deaths per 1,000 live births

  • Somalia: 112 deaths per 1,000 live births

  • Nigeria: 111 deaths per 1,000 live births

4. Neonatal mortality not declining everywhere

Globally, neonatal mortality, or newborns who die in the first month of life, is also declining: 2.3 million deaths in 2021, compared to 5.2 million in 1990. However, not all regions of the world show the same decline. Sadly, this figure is on the rise in sub-Saharan Africa and in west and central Africa.

5. Five to 24-year-olds more likely to die in Africa

The trend is the same for deaths of children and youth aged 5 to 24. The United Nations estimates that 2.1 million in the age range died in 2021, declining in all regions of the world, with the exception of sub-Saharan Africa and west and central Africa. The most affected regions are:

  • Sub-Saharan Africa: one million deaths

  • West and central Africa: 572,000 deaths

  • South Asia: 484,000 deaths

The UN report highlighted the following regions with top child and youth mortality rates:

  • Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest regional probability of death for the 5-24 age group, with 38 deaths per 1,000 children aged five years,

  • Oceania (excluding Australia and New Zealand), with 21 deaths per 1,000 children aged five years,

  • Latin America and the Caribbean with 14 deaths per 1,000 children aged five years.

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