Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Asia Pacific must tackle child mortality

A new United Nations report on infant and child mortality has some blunt messages for governments in the Asia Pacific region.

It says they must spend more on health services, reduce the income gap and slow the pace of privatisation in the health sector.

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) report for Asia and the Pacific says Asia's economic growth over recent decades has been the key to lowering infant and child mortality rates across the region.

UNICEF's regional director for Asia and the Pacific, Anupama Rao Singh, said the region has made great strides in lowering infant and child mortality rates since the 1970s but warns in recent years the gains have been parred.

"The good dimension is that there has been progress in the decline of infant and child mortality rates if you compare it from the 1970s to date," he said.

"Many countries are on track to achieving the millennium development goal of reducing infant and child mortality by two thirds by 2015.

"This progress has tended to taper off in the last 15 to 17 years. The 70s and 80s saw a much more rapid decline."

But there are major challenges in which public policy in Asia is making it much harder for infant mortality goals to be reached.

Public health systems are under-resourced and financed with less than 1 per cent of government budgets invested in the sector, while income disparities are also widening.

The report warns that if Asia Pacific fails to extend essential services to the poor and marginalised groups as well as making efforts to narrow income disparities, it may result in one million child deaths in the region in 2015.

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