A new report from leading world charity Save the Children shows that more than 200 million children under 5 don’t have access to life saving healthcare such as pre-natal care, skilled help at birth, immunisations, and treatment for pneumonia and diarrhea. This is the first time such a report has shown the number of children worldwide that are missing out on basic health services.

Titled “State of the World’s Mothers 2008”, the report covers 55 developing countries where 83 per cent of child deaths occur every year. Of these, the Philippines ranks top, with nearly 69 per cent of children getting health care when they need it. Second and third were Peru and South Africa.

Ethiopia ranks last, because there only 16 per cent of children get health care when they need it. Laos, Yemen, Chad, and Somalia were also among the worse performing developing countries.

The report reveals a substantial “survival gap” within countries between rich and poor when it comes to meeting children’s health needs. Although some countries are doing a good job, says the report, there are large inequalities between children who are better and children who are worse off.

Although the Philippines ranked top overall among developing countries in reaching the most under 5s, it has a significant disparity gap where for every rich child that has basic healthcare, there are at least 3 children (3.2 is the statistical average) among the poor that do not.

The biggest survival gap is in Peru, where poor children are 7.4 times more likely to die before the age of five compared to rich children.

Save the Children is calling for a concerted worldwide effort to close the child survival gap. This should include training and equipping more community health workers to bring health care to the poorest and most marginalized communities, said the report. The charity also points to estimates by experts that show over 6 million of the nearly 10 million children that die every year could be saved if they had access to basic healthcare through a local health facility or community health worker.

Save the Children’s chief executive in the UK, Jasmine Whitbread said:

“A child’s chance of reaching its fifth birthday should not depend on the country or community where it is born.”

“We need to do a better job of reaching the poorest children with basic health measures like vaccines, antibiotics and skilled care at childbirth,” she urged.

She said these simple measures are taken for granted in the more developed countries, but for millions of children in underdeveloped countries, it is the difference between life and death.

Other points made in the report include:

  • Of 146 countries covered overall, Sweden, Norway and Iceland are top of the list for mother and child wellbeing, with Nigeria in last place.
  • Of the 10 countries at the bottom of the mother and child wellbeing list, 8 of them are in sub-Saharan Africa, for which figures show four out of five mothers lose a child in their lifetime.
  • On average, among the countries at the bottom of the list, 1 in 21 mothers will die from pregnancy-related causes; more than 1 child in 6 dies before their fifth birthday, and roughly 1 child in 3 has malnutrition.
  • Through a concerted child healthcare campaign, the Philippines has cut child deaths by nearly 50 per cent since 1990, by ensuring a continuing simple strategy like prompt access to oral rehydration for diarrhea.
  • More than 75 per cent of Filipino children get access to rehydration for diarrhea, compared with only 15 per cent of children in Ethiopia.
  • A recent poll showed most Americans believe AIDs causes the most child deaths worldwide, but in reality it accounts for only 3 per cent.
  • Delivering a basic package of maternal, newborn and child health care that takes realistic account of the needs of poor people in developing countries would go a long way to solving the problem.

Click here to download the full report “State of the World’s Mothers 2008” (Save the Children, PDF).

Sources: Save the Children, Associated Press.

Written by: Catharine Paddock, PhD