LONDON (AFP) — England football star David Beckham on Tuesday urged the world not to turn its back on "shocking and tragic" child mortality rates in developing countries.
Beckham was speaking on his return from a trip to Sierra Leone as a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).
What he had seen in the west African country, he said, had brought home to him the urgency of the problem.
"We can't turn a blind eye to the tens of thousands of young children who die every day in the developing world mostly from causes that are preventable," added the father-of-three.
"In Sierra Leone, one in four children dies before reaching their fifth birthday -- it's shocking and tragic especially when the solutions are simple," said Beckham.
Measures that could be taken to tackle the problem include vaccinating against measles or using a mosquito net to reduce the chances of getting malaria.
"Saving these children's lives is a top priority for UNICEF and as an ambassador I hope I can help to draw attention to this issue across the world," said the LA Galaxy star, who spent four days in Sierra Leone.
Beckham travelled to the capital Freetown on Friday, before heading to Makeni in the north of the country.
The visit by Beckham -- who made his name with Manchester United but now plays for the US team LA Galaxy -- was kept secret for reasons of security, according to Alison Parker, spokeswoman for UNICEF.
Beckham -- married to Spice Girls star Victoria Beckham, better known as 'Posh Spice' -- visited several malaria-treatment centres. The disease kills at least 800,000 children aged under five every year in sub-Saharan Africa.
In Sierra Leone, 27 percent of children die before reaching their fifth birthday, the highest figure in the world, according to a UNICEF report released Tuesday: The State of the World's Children (SOWC) 2008.
Sierra Leone was wracked by civil war between 1991 and 2003, and the majority of its citizens survive on less than a dollar a day.
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