By JUAN L. MERCADO
September 18, 2012
There is good news.
Under-age-five child death rates or "U5MR" were halved between 1990
and 2011. Two decades back 59 kids, out of every thousand births,
never made it to age 5.
Despite progress in “U5MR”,
we will flub Millennium Development Goal No. 4. That’s the bad news.
We’re committed to cut child mortality by two thirds come 2015. We’ll
flunk, predicts National Economic Development Authority.
“For every 1,000 children
born in the Philippines in 2011, only 25 under five years of age
died,” reports Unicef’s mid-September study “Committing to Child
Survival: A Promise Renewed”. “This is a 55 percent drop” from “U5MR”
levels in 1990.
Globally, “U5MR” slumped 12
million in 1990 to 6.9 million last year, the UN Inter-agency Group
for Child Mortality Estimation also reports. “About 14,000 fewer
children die each day than did two decades ago", Unicef's Angela
Travis underscores. "Still, almost 19,000 children under five die
All regions and diverse
countries cut U5MR. That sweeps in afluent Oman, middle-income Brazil
to impoverished Bangladesh – which posted a remarkable two thirds cut
in under-five deaths. Almost half of global under-five deaths were
lumped in India, Nigeria, Congo, Pakistan and China.
Unicef’s latest global
survey of 169 nations pegs the Philippines into Slot 83. In last
year’s study, we landed in Slot 80 among 193 nations. That shoved us
almost on par with Dominican Republic but lagged behind Malaysia. Is
that good enough?
“Our death is not an end if
we live on in our children. For they are us”, physicist Albert
Einstein wrote. “Our bodies are only wilted leaves on the tree of
This time around, two Asian
countries – Japan and Singapore – landed among the world’s top 10 in
slashing infant deaths. They ranked alongside Sweden and Norway.
In Southeast Asia, the
Philippines had the sixth lowest U5MR. Malaysia and Brunei, tied for
7th place. Thailand came in 12th and Vietnam, 22nd. Those who posted
higher U5MR were: Myanmar, 47th, Timor-Leste, 51st; Cambodia, 62nd;
Laos and Indonesia, 71st.
Odds are stacked against
kids born in this country’s penury cesspools. A child delivered in the
Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, for example is four times less
likely to reach 5th birthday than a kid born in Metro Manila.
Preventable ailments, like
pneumonia and diarrhea, are main infant killers. These two ailments
strike down almost 30 percent of infants worldwide. Other killers
include: complications and infections a month after birth – the
critical “neonatal period”.
Babies born preterm – before
the 37th week of pregnancy – are specially vulnerable. “The shorter
the term of pregnancy, the greater the risks of death.” Almost a third
of infant deaths stem from this one cluster.
“Across the human life span,
an individual faces greatest risk of mortality during birth and the
first 28 days of life”. About half of Filipino children’s death occurs
within this narrow deadly window. Most of these deaths occur at home.
Unrecorded, they remain invisible to all but their grieving families.
Almost 90 percent of all
child deaths are attributable to six conditions: neonatal causes,
pneumonia, diarrhea, malaria, measles, and HIV/AIDS, World Health
Organization notes. These are preventable.
Providing clean potable
alone drastically increases chances for child survival. Yet, large
majorities, in ARRM provinces, quaff from easily-contaminated wells.
These include Tawi-Tawi (94 percent), Sulu (72 percent), Lanao del Sur
(69 percent), Basilan (66 percent) to Maguindanao (46 percent).
“There is unfinished
business” writes UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake. “Millions of
children, under five are still dying each year from largely
preventable causes. (There are) proven, affordable interventions.
“These lives could be saved with vaccines, adequate nutrition and
basic medical and maternal care. The world has the technology and
know-how to do so. The challenge is to make these available to every
"In the Philippines, we now
need to focus our energies on the neonatal period”, suggests UNICEF
Philippines Representative, Tomoo Hozumi. “This is when 45 percent of
the under five deaths occur. We need to ensure these young babies,
many of them born too soon, don’t die before they’ve barely had a
chance to live”.
Among other things, that
calls for greater priority – and investment – are adequate sanitation,
nutrition vaccination, pre-natal services, etc., these ratchet
prospects for child survival and development.
“The first two years of life
are a window of opportunity when nutrition programs have an enormous
impact on a child's development, with life-long benefits,”
International Food Policy Research Institute points out. After age
three, economic benefits dwindle to near zero.
Protein energy malnutrition
sends more pre-school children to premature graves here, than in
Bangladesh, India or Pakistan, World and Asian Development Bank
confirm in their joint report: “Early Childhood Development Lack of
micro-nutrients sap intelligence quotients. IQs of ill-fed kids can be
whittled down by 10 to 14 percent, an ADB study says. This loss is
irreversible. “Their elevators will never go to the top floor.” That's
layman lingo for permanently impaired lives.
In the 2012 national budget,
Malacañang and Congress tacked P200 million in pork to Vice President
Jejomr Binay’s office fund of P481.79 million. A government that can
underwrite a 260-percent hike for an official can do no less for its
After all, "life is the
threshold at which all other hopes begin."