Millennium Development Goal 4: Reduce child mortality

By Cathleen O’Grady

Recently, Foundation Beyond Belief notified members that we would be incorporating the Millennium Development Goals into our charity vetting process. In order to better help our members get acquainted with these goals, we are rolling out a monthly explanation of the goals, the progress made thus far toward their achievement, and what we, as a global community, have left to achieve in the remaining three years of the plan. Read more about the background of the Millennium Development Goals here. Unless otherwise noted, all information below comes directly from the United Nations.

The initial target of Millennium Development Goal 4 was to reduce the mortality rate of children under the age of five by 66% by 2015.

In 1990, 12.4 million children under the age of five died, a number that had fallen to 6.9 million by 2012, despite population growth. This shows steady progress toward achieving MDG 4, with nearly a third of the 49 least developed countries having reduced their childhood mortality rates by 40% or more since 1993. However, every year, almost 9 million children still die before reaching their fifth birthday.

A disproportionate number of deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa, where, in 2008, one in seven children died before the age of five. Despite important progress in the right direction, only 10 countries out of 67 with high childhood mortality rates are on track to reach the MDG target; and although the overall number of deaths worldwide is reducing, deaths in the first month after birth are actually on the increase. High fertility rates also mean that although the proportion of children dying is lower, absolute deaths in developing countries are on the increase.

Many deaths in the first five years are attributable to either malnutrition (more than 33%) or pneumonia, diarrhea, malaria, and AIDS (43%). Access to primary health care, infrastructure, and nutrition is therefore likely to have a far-reaching impact on child mortality. The 2012 UN report also notes that improvements in measles immunization have also had a drastic impact, reducing an estimated 535,000 measles-related deaths worldwide in 2000 to 139,900 in 2010.

Success in reducing child mortality hinges to a large extent on the success of MDG 2 (achieve universal primary education) and MDG 3 (promote gender equality and empower women), because children whose mothers have achieved even primary education have a greater chance of survival than those children born to mothers with no education. Empowering women in other ways—including removing social and financial barriers to accessing medical care and other services—may also contribute to reducing mortality rates.

Alongside maternal education, important risk factors are living in a rural area, and the income of the family, with children born to low-income families nearly twice as likely to die before the age of five as those from wealthier families. The 2012 UN report notes that neonatal health is an area desperately needing development and progress if reduction in childhood mortality is to continue at a rapid rate.

A succinct progress report for Millennium Development Goal 4 can be found here.

Foundation Beyond Belief considers Millennium Development Goal 4 in its assessment of all beneficiary categories. Learn more about how our Q2 Poverty and Health beneficiary, One Acre Fund, is playing a role in empowering women to earn an income, thereby reducing their barriers to services and health care, and helping them to provide for the next generation; and find out about how our Q2 Natural World beneficiary, Trees, Water & People, is improving sanitation and access to clean water, to protect both human health and the environment.

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