WHO: Child Mortality Campaign Lagging

The UN’s Millennium Develop­ment Goal of reducing by two-thirds the mortality rate of children un­der 5 years old before 2015 will not be met in the Wes­tern Pacific re­gion unless more in­tense ef­forts are made, the World Health Organization warned in a statement Wednesday.

Cambodia should pay particular heed to the warning as its mortality rate of children under 5 is the highest in the region, WHO officials said Wednesday. Thirty-seven countries compose the WHO’s Western Pacific re­gion, which includes Southeast Asia, East Asia, Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands.

The latest statistics show that “every eighth [Cambodian] child dies before the age of 5,” said Dr Severin von Xylander, a WHO official who works on child and adolescent health and development. Although the child mortality rate dipped in the 1990s, there are now indications that it may be rising, von Xylander said. “The whole area of child health is un­derfunded,” he said.

Sophal Oum, deputy director-general for health at the Ministry of Health, declined to comment on the warning.

Health officials must act fast if they are to reach the 2015 goal, WHO country director Jim Tul­loch said. “There needs to be a serious intensification of efforts in Cambodia if they’re to do their part in reaching the global goal,” he said.

Many of the child deaths here are “definitely avoidable,” von Xy­land­­er said, blaming inefficient and in­adequate health spending. “You could probably re­duce child mortality by 60 percent.”

Much of the money used to fight child deaths comes from do­nors rather than the government. But the donor money is not di­rect­ed as efficiently as it could be, von Xylander said.

A large proportion of the mon­ey is spent combating HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis. Although these diseases kill children, they do not cause the majority of Cambodia’s child deaths, von Xylander said.

Other diseases that kill many more children are neglected by do­nors, he said. “I’m not saying that HIV/AIDS projects shouldn’t be funded,” he said, but he added that 61,000 children die annually of other diseases.

HIV/AIDS is “probably responsible for less than 1 percent of child mortalities in Cambodia,” von Xylander said.

Pneumonia, diarrhea, post-na­tal problems and congenital de­form­ities each kill more children than HIV/AIDS, and do not re­ceive sufficient funding, he said.

The high infant death rate is largely due to the fact that health service, nutritional standards and literacy have not substantially im­proved in recent years, von Xy­lander said.

Malnutrition is a major cause of child deaths. Half of the country’s children are malnourished, and half of all child deaths are linked to malnutrition, he said.

“We have a very important underlying problem of malnutrition,” he said.

Many of the deaths are linked to poor access to health facilities and poor nutrition, he said. A high rate of anemia among children—about 60 percent—leaves them particularly vulnerable to fatal diseases, he said.

 

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