Children under 5 years of age are the population group at most risk from adverse environmental conditions. Increased mortality is principally due to poor sanitation, lack of safe water, overcrowding, reduced intervals between pregnancies, lack of maternal education, malnutrition, and inadequate health care. Inadequate spacing, number, and timing of births can have a revolutionary impact on the growth and survival of children. Indeed, infant mortality increases steeply after too short an interval between births and after the third child. Also, children born to women under the age of 20 are approximately twice as likely to die in infancy as children born to women in their mid-20s.
The widespread acceptance of the loss of many infant lives has sometimes been attributed to a fatalistic outlook on life; it may also have been a cause of such fatalistic attitudes. During the seventeenth century, for example, the child mortality rate in Europe is estimated to have been in the region of 500 per thousand; before the introduction of new methods and the development of corresponding attitudes, almost everywhere at least 200 or more out of 1,000 liveborn infants died in their first year of life. In the history of every human society, the loss of many new-born infants has probably been regarded as unavoidable, and had to be accepted as such. In some of the less developed regions this may still be the case today.
30,000 children die each day from causes that can be prevented.
The world infant mortality rate for 1980-1985 was 81 per 1000 live births, with more developed regions having a rate of 17 per 1000 and less developed regions' rates being 92 per 1000. The infant mortality rate for Africa was 114; Asia 87; Europe 16; Oceania 39; Latin America 63; and North America 12. In developing countries 50% of total deaths are in children under 5 years of age, and for this age group mortality rates in excess of 300 per 1,000 live births occur in some regions. Infant mortality rates vary from less than 15 in most developing countries to more than 200 in the least developed countries. A 1993 World Bank report estimates of 13 million children under the age of 5 in developing countries who die every year, 3 million die die in the first week of delivery.
Russian infant mortality reached 17.9 deaths per 1,000 births in 1991.
In 1982 alone, a total of 15 million children - the equivalent of the entire under-5 population in the USA - died as a result of malnutrition, dehydration and disease. According to a 1983 WHO report, 122 million infants are born each year, and of those roughly 10% - over 12 million - will die before their first birthday. A further 4% will die before their fifth birthday. Simple, curable diarrhoea takes 6 million young lives. Another 5 million will be claimed by measles, whooping cough, polio, tetanus, diphtheria and tuberculosis. Thousands more will die of pneumonia, malaria or schistosomiasis (bilharzia). The survival chances of children decrease with poorly spaced births to teenage mothers and to those with relatively fast childbearing for their age. 'The continuing challenge' says the report 'is to turn this tide of childhood mortality'.
UNICEF predicts that as a result of AIDS the under-five mortality rate in central and east Africa is likely to rise to between 159 and 189 per 1,000 live births by the end of the century, instead of dropping to 132. Pollution is also causing child mortality. The infant mortality rate in Silesia is 30 per thousand -- twice the Polish national average and five times the OECD rate. One in four infant deaths in Silesian hospitals is the result of genetic deformity, associated with teratogens, such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, produced by the burning of local, poor quality coal.
Infant mortality declined continuously in practically all parts of the Region from 1990 to 1995, but there were still vast differences between countries. Compared with the levels in countries that are members of the European Union (EU), infant mortality was more than twice as high in the CCEE and more than three times as high in the NIS. Among the various factors affecting infant mortality, insufficient access to safe drinking-water is still an important risk factor in a large part of the Region. Indoor and ambient air pollution has also contributed to an increased risk of acute respiratory illnesses and mortality among young children.
A report cited by the International Conference on Alternatives to Globalization held in November 1998 at the Development Academy of the Philippines, showed that 305 Filipino infants under the age of one die every day, ranking the Philippines fourth in the list of countries with the highest total infant mortality.
In the USA, motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death for young children, with half of those travelling unrestrained or improperly restrained.