Unicef Reports Rise in Child Mortality Rate

In a new report on the health of the world’s children, the UN Children’s Fund states the mortality rate for those under 5 years old in Cambodia has increased from 115 per 1,000 children in 1990 to 140 in 2003—a number that is inaccurate, Rodney Hat­field, the Unicef Repre­sentative in Cam­bo­­dia, said on Thursday.

“Childhood Under Threat: The State of the World’s Children 2005” report ranks Cambodia as hav­­ing the worst infant mortality rate in East Asia.

“One of the reasons for the in­crease is that the data is not very ac­­curate,” Hatfield said by telephone on Thursday.

“In reality, there’s probably not been much change [since 1990]. There will be a demographic health survey this year of 60,000 households, which will be much more valuable. I don’t think it helps to use those figures,” he said of the Unicef report released Thurs­day.

The rate of infant death has been decreasing in most of Asia fair­ly rapidly, Hatfield added, because of increased prosperity, better communications, im­proved treatment of diseases, far better im­munization coverage, better aware­ness diseases and how they can be treated, and availability of health services.

Hatfield said the problem of infant mortality here is a result of the country’s underfunded and underequipped health services.

“It’s not a quick and easy thing to instate health services for a country,” he said.

“The infant mortality rate in Cambodia has con­sistently been higher in the last 10 years compared to its neigh­bors.”

Mu Sochua, former Minister of Women’s Affairs, and member of the opposition party Cabinet, said Thursday the state of Cambo­dian children’s health is “ap­pal­ling.”

“I find it appalling that these figures are so high in terms of lack of access to safe water, to schools, to immunization,” Mu Sochua said.

“You see the children of Cambo­dia being victimized by a system that has not improved in terms of quality and access to services,” she said.

“The infant mortality figures are really alarming compared to Vietnam…It’s a huge difference.”

According to Unicef, only 23 Vietnamese children per 1,000 dies before age 5.

The new report states that 45 percent of Cambodian children are malnourished; 45 percent have not been immunized against mea­sles; 66 percent do not have access to safe water; 86 percent lack access to adequate sanitation facilities, and less than half the girls who enter primary school complete the sixth grade.

The report goes on to state that out of 2.1 million children under 15 living with HIV/AIDS globally, 7,300 live in Cambodia. The country has the highest prevalence of HIV in Asia, which has re­sulted in an estimated 50,000 children being orphaned as of 2001.

That number is projected to in­crease to 142,000 by 2010, according to the report.

Globally, the report cites poverty, HIV/AIDS and conflict as three of the most devastating factors threatening children-issues that affect Cambodian children as well.

“When a population is displaced, or there is…civil strife, HIV/AIDS spreads quickly, espe­cial­ly when you have a large number of military forces,” Hatfield said.

“Unprotected casual sex cer­tain­ly is a major factor. The drug use in Cambodia is also increasing—which is not positive for the HIV/AIDS situation,” she added.

Although an estimated 2.2 million children in Cambodia still live in absolute poverty, suffer from poor nutrition and lack access to ba­sic health care, some improvements have been made in areas such as immunizations.

“Very few children now die from immunizable diseases like measles”, Hatfield said.“Polio has been eradicated from Cambodia over the last five years. Measles deaths have been very much re­duced. It can be quite a killer of child­ren, especially for those who are malnourished.”

Unicef will present its report to  King Norodom Sihamoni today.

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