Infant Mortality Rate Is Falling: Despite Global Progress, Disparities Leave Many Children at Risk

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Globally, the continued reduction in child deaths is a great success story: At just 57 deaths of children under age 1 per 1,000 live births, the world's infant mortality rate is at its lowest level in history, according to UN Population Division figures.

The gap between developed and developing regions is also narrowing. However, the rate's decline is slowing globally, raising concerns about unaddressed disparities, reports the Worldwatch Institute.

"The decline in infant mortality has slowed significantly recently--from an average drop of over 2% a year between 1950 and 1990 to less than 1% annually in the last 15 years, largely as a result of stagnation in improvements in health care and increases in infant mortality rates in some developing countries," writes Worldwatch researcher Lauren Sorkin, a contributor to Vital Signs 2006-2007.

The HIV/AIDS epidemic and an assortment of diseases that could be prevented with access to basic immunization services are major reasons for the lack of progress in reducing child deaths in less-developed regions, particularly eastern and southern Africa.

"The countries most affected by [HIV/AIDS] have seen a doubling of infant mortality rates in recent years," says Sorkin. "The highest regional rate in 2005--94.2 deaths per 1,000 live births--was found in Africa."

Instability in already poverty-plagued Africa and Southeast Asia also prevents mothers and infants from receiving prenatal and early-infant care, Sorkin points out. There are not enough health-care workers, services are too far away, and patients can't pay for the services they can access. …