NEW YORK/GENEVA/WASHINGTON D.C., 10 January 2023 – 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 Inter-agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation (UN IGME).
In a separate report also released today, the group 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.
“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.”
The reports show some positive outcomes with a lower risk of death
across all ages globally since 2000. The global under-five mortality
rate fell by 50 per cent since the start of the century, while mortality
rates in older children and youth dropped by 36 per cent, and the
stillbirth rate decreased by 35 per cent. This can be attributed to more
investments in strengthening primary health systems to benefit women,
children and young people.
However, 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 agencies, almost 59 million children and
youth will die before 2030, and nearly 16 million babies will be lost to
“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 differentiating chances of survival
based on where they are born, with sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia
shouldering the heaviest burden, the reports show. Though sub-Saharan
Africa had just 29 per cent of global live births, the region accounted
for 56 per cent of all under-five deaths in 2021, and Southern Asia for
26 per cent of the total. Children born in sub-Saharan Africa are
subject to the highest risk of childhood death in the world – 15 times
higher than the risk for children in Europe and Northern America.
Mothers in these two regions also endure the painful loss of babies
to stillbirth at an exceptional rate, with 77 per cent of all
stillbirths in 2021 occurring in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
Nearly half of all stillbirths happened in sub-Saharan Africa. The risk
of a woman having a stillborn baby in sub-Saharan Africa is seven times
more likely than in Europe and North America.
“Behind these numbers are millions of children and families who are
denied their basic rights to health,” said Juan Pablo Uribe, Global
Director for Health, Nutrition and Population, World Bank and Director
of the Global Financing Facility. “We need political will and leadership
for sustained financing for primary health care which is one of the
best investments countries and development partners can make.”
Access to and availability of quality health care continues to be a
matter of life or death for children globally. 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
per cent 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
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. In
particular, the reports highlight 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.
The reports also note gaps in data, which could critically undermine
the impact of policies and programmes designed to improve childhood
survival and well-being.
“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.”
Notes to editors:
The two reports – Levels & Trends in Child Mortality and Never Forgotten – are the first of a series of important data sets released in 2023,
with UN maternal mortality figures to be published later this year.
Download multimedia content here.
Access the report and data here.
About UN IGME
The United Nations Inter-agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation
or UN IGME was formed in 2004 to share data on child mortality, improve
methods for child mortality estimation, report on progress towards child
survival goals and enhance country capacity to produce timely and
properly assessed estimates of child mortality. UN IGME is led by UNICEF
and includes the World Health Organization, the World Bank Group and
the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population
For more information visit: Child Mortality