In 2021, 2.8 million children in sub-Saharan Africa died before reaching their fifth birthday: UN report  

Region accounted for over half of all under-five deaths in 2021, says report  

By Madhumita Paul
Published: Tuesday 10 January 2023
Photo: iStock

Sub-Saharan Africa accounted for 56 per cent of all global under-five deaths in 2021, with 2.8 million children dying before reaching their fifth birthday, according to the latest estimates released by the United Nations Inter-agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation (UN-IGME)

Children born in sub-Saharan Africa are subject to the highest risk of childhood deaths in the world, with a 2021 under-five mortality rate (U5MR) of 74 deaths per 1,000 live births, according to Levels and trends in child mortality report 2022.

The rate is 15 times higher than in Europe and North America and 19 times higher than in Australia and New Zealand.

Globally, the under-five mortality rate (U5MR) fell to 38 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2021 and total fatality in the age group to five million, according to the report. 

The report also stated that while the global neonatal mortality rate (NMR) in 2021 was 18 (17-19) deaths per 1,000 live births, regionally, sub-Saharan Africa had the highest neonatal mortality rate (NMR) in the world at 27 (24-32) deaths per 1,000 live births.

Read more: 5 million children died before their fifth birthday in 2021, 1.9 million stillborn: UN reports

A child born in sub-Saharan Africa is 11 times more likely to die in the first month of life than a child born in Australia and New Zealand, which has the lowest regional NMR in the world.

Sub-Saharan Africa bears an outsized 1-59-months death burden, the report revealed. When broken down by two age groups — neonatal and 1-59 months — sub-Saharan Africa has the greatest number of deaths.

More worryingly, the region’s share of the global number of stillbirths has increased to 45 per cent in 2021 from 26 per cent in 2000, as population growth has outpaced decreases in stillbirth rates.

The report also noted gaps in data, which could critically undermine the impact of policies and programmes designed to improve childhood survival and well-being.

In about half the countries in sub-Saharan Africa, the most recent data on child mortality was more than five years old, said the report.

Most countries that are off-track to meet the United Nations-mandated Sustainable Development Goal target 3.2 on under-five mortality are in sub-Saharan Africa

Increased investment is required across all ages, from the neonatal period through young adulthood, to reduce the burden of these deaths, including a renewed focus on children aged 1–59 months.

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