A report led by UN agencies UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO), found that since 2000, child deaths have reduced by nearly half and maternal deaths by more than a third, mostly due to improved access to affordable, quality health services.
But the latest data also showed that 6.2 million children worldwide died in 2018 before their 15th birthday, and more than 290,000 women died due to complications during pregnancy and childbirth in 2017.
Of the total child deaths, 5.3 million were among under fives, with almost half of these in the first month of life.
“A skilled pair of hands to help mothers and newborns around the time of birth, along with clean water, adequate nutrition, basic medicines and vaccines, can make the difference between life and death,” Henrietta Fore, UNICEF’s executive director, said in the report.
She urged governments and health leaders to invest in health services to “do all it takes ... to save these precious lives”.
The data showed vast inequalities between regions, with women and children in sub-Saharan Africa running a far higher risk of early death than elsewhere.
Levels of maternal deaths are nearly 50 times higher for women in sub-Saharan Africa than in wealthy countries, and their babies are 10 times more likely to die in their first month of life, the report found.
Since 1990, however, there has been a 56% drop in deaths of children under 15, from 14.2 million a year to 6.2 million in 2018, it added. Countries in eastern and south-eastern Asia have made the most progress, with an 80% fall in under-five deaths.