UNITED NATIONS (AFP) — The number of children who die before their fifth birthday fell below 10 million in 2006, but much more still needed to be done, said a report by the UN's children's agency UNICEF released Monday.
The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) report attributed the progress in children's mortality rates largely to improvements in healthcare.
By comparison, an estimated 20 million children under five were dying every year at the beginning of the 1960s.
But UNICEF's executive director, Ann Veneman, pointed out that "much more must be done" and "if we do so, we can help create a better world for girls and boys, and for generations to come."
More than 500,000 women still die every year, for example, as a result of complications during pregnancy and childbirth, about half of whom die in sub-Saharan Africa, the report said.
The study also found an appalling lack of basic sanitation, hygiene and drinkable water, which contributes to the deaths of more than 1.5 million children each year from diarrhea and related ailments.
About 158 million children between ages five and 14 were still engaged in child labour around the world, UNICEF estimated.
Moreover, the number of people living with worldwide with HIV-AIDS has continued to rise, affecting child welfare as well.
Only 11 percent of more than two million pregnant women living with HIV in the majority of developing nations in 2005 received antiretroviral prophylaxis to prevent them from infecting their babies, according to the study.
In low- and middle-income countries, only 15 percent of HIV-infected children under age 15 actually received treatment in 2006.
Among the good news reported was that between 1990 and 2004 more than 1.2 billion people gained access to safe drinking water, which resulted in fewer deaths from infection diseases.
Vaccination and other forms of public health care have also made great strides and have become more accessible.
More than four times as many children received the recommended two doses of vitamin A in 2005 as in 1999, according to the report.
All countries in sub-Saharan Africa made progress in expanding coverage of insecticide-treated nets, a fundamental tool in halting malaria, with 16 of these 20 countries at least tripling coverage since 2000.
And in the 47 countries, where 95 percent of measles deaths occur, measles immunization coverage increased from 57 percent in 1990 to 68 percent in 2006, UNICEF pointed out.
Between 1996 and 2000, rates of breastfeeding in developing countries increased markedly, including in seven sub-Saharan African countries which saw a 20 percent increase.
Education, a key tool for improving public health care, has become more accessible, UN researchers noted.
The number of primary-school-age children who were out of school fell from 115 million in 2002 to 93 million in 2005-2006 while many developing countries have come close to providing universal primary education.
The report's "findings reinforce UNICEF's conviction that the combined efforts of governments, international organizations, civil society, local communities and the private sector are making a difference and delivering results for children," said Veneman.
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