NEW DELHI: An estimated 5 million children died before their fifth birthday and another 2.1 million children and youth aged between 5–24 years lost their lives in 2021, according to the latest estimates released by the United Nations.
It also found that 1.9 million babies were stillborn during the same period.
Tragically, many of these deaths could have been prevented with equitable access and high-quality maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health care, the UN said.
"Every day, far too many parents are facing the trauma of losing their children, sometimes even before their first breath," said Vidhya Ganesh, UNICEF Director of the Division of Data Analytics, Planning and Monitoring.
"Such widespread, preventable tragedy should never be accepted as inevitable. Progress is possible with stronger political will and targeted investment in equitable access to primary health care for every woman and child.”
While COVID-19 has not directly increased childhood mortality - with children facing a lower likelihood of dying from the disease than adults - the pandemic may have increased future risks to their survival.
The report highlighted concerns around disruptions to vaccination campaigns, nutrition services, and access to primary health care, which could jeopardize their health and well-being for many years to come.
In addition, the pandemic has fuelled the largest continued backslide in vaccinations in three decades, putting the most vulnerable newborns and children at greater risk of dying from preventable diseases.
Gains have reduced significantly since 2010, and 54 countries will fall short of meeting the Sustainable Development Goals target for under-five mortality.
If swift action is not taken to improve health services, warn the UN agencies, almost 59 million children and youth will die before 2030, and nearly 16 million babies will be lost to stillbirth, it said.
"It is grossly unjust that a child's chances of survival can be shaped just by their place of birth, and that there are such vast inequities in their access to lifesaving health services," said Dr Anshu Banerjee, Director for Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health and Ageing at the World Health Organization (WHO). "Children everywhere need strong primary health care systems that meet their needs and those of their families, so that - no matter where they are born - they have the best start and hope for the future."
Children continue to face wildly different chances of survival based on where they are born, with sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia shouldering the heaviest burden, the reports show.
Most child deaths occur in the first five years, of which half are within the very first month of life. For these youngest babies, premature birth and complications during labour are the leading causes of death.
Similarly, more than 40 percent of stillbirths occur during labour - most of which are preventable when women have access to quality care throughout pregnancy and birth.
For children that survive past their first 28 days, infectious diseases like pneumonia, diarrhoea and malaria pose the biggest threat.
"The new estimates highlight the remarkable global progress since 2000 in reducing mortality among children under age 5," said John Wilmoth, Director, UN DESA Population Division.
"Despite this success, more work is needed to address persistent large differences in child survival across countries and regions, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. Only by improving access to quality health care, especially around the time of childbirth, will we be able to reduce these inequities and end preventable deaths of newborns and children worldwide," he added.