Newly released data compiled by demographers and health experts from UNICEF, the World Health Organization (<"http://www.who.int/en/">WHO), the World Bank and the UN Population Division shows a 28 per cent decline in the under-five mortality rate, from 90 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1990, to 65 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2008.
The absolute number of child deaths in 2008 declined to an estimated 8.8 million from 12.5 million in 1990, the base line year for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – the eight anti-poverty targets with a 2015 deadline that includes reducing under-five mortality by two-thirds by that time.
UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman noted that compared to 1990, some 10,000 fewer children are dying every day.
"While progress is being made, it is unacceptable that each year 8.8 million children die before their fifth birthday," she added.
Public health experts attribute the continuing drop to greater use of health interventions such as immunizations, the use of insecticide-treated bednets to prevent malaria and vitamin A supplementation.
UNICEF noted that progress has been seen in every part of the world, and even in some of the least-developed countries, such as Malawi, one of ten high under-five mortality countries that is now on track to meet the related MDG.
In addition, impressive gains have been made in countries that are not fully on track to meet that MDG, including in Niger, Mozambique and Ethiopia which have all reduced under-five mortality by more than 100 per 1,000 live births since 1990.
At the same time, UNICEF stated that while progress has been made in many countries, the global rate of improvement is still insufficient to reach the MDG, and Africa and Asia combined still account for 93 per cent of all under-five deaths that occur each year in the developing world.
"A handful of countries with large populations bear a disproportionate burden of under-five deaths, with 40 per cent of the world's under-five deaths occurring in just three countries: India, Nigeria, and the Democratic Republic of Congo," said Ms. Veneman.
"Unless mortality in these countries can be significantly reduced, the MDG targets will not be met," she cautioned, adding that this will require a strong sense of urgency with targeted resources for greater progress.