Press Release

Ninety Million Children's Lives Saved Since 1990, Says UNICEF

Since 1990, the number of children under the age of five dying annually of preventable causes has been reduced by nearly 50 percent—from 12.6 million in 1990 to 6.6 million in 2012, according to data released today by UNICEF.


NEW YORK (September 12, 2013) - Some 90 million children's lives have been saved over the past two decades, according to a new report by UNICEF. This is due to more effective and affordable treatments against the leading killers of children, improvements in mothers' nutrition and education, innovations in bringing critical services to poor and marginalized people, and sustained commitment by governments.

Since 1990, the number of children under the age of five dying annually of preventable causes has been reduced by nearly 50 percent—from 12.6 million in 1990 to 6.6 million in 2012, according to data released today by UNICEF.

Yet, without faster progress in all regions to save children's lives, as many as 35 million children could die from preventable causes between 2015 and 2028. If current trends hold, the world will not meet the promise of Millennium Develop Goal 4—to cut the under-five child mortality rate by two-thirds between 1990 and 2015—until 2028.

“Yes, we should celebrate the progress,” said Anthony Lake, UNICEF Executive Director. “But how can we celebrate when there is so much more to do before we reach the [Millennium Development] goal?  And we can speed up the progress. We know how, but we need to act with a renewed sense of urgency,” he said.  

Pneumonia, diarrhea, and malaria remain the leading causes of child deaths, together claiming the lives of about 6,000 children under five each day.  Globally, 45 percent of under-five deaths are linked to under-nutrition. The first month of life is the most precarious for a child. In 2012, nearly three million babies died during the first month of life, mostly from preventable causes.

“Anti-malarial bed nets, vaccines, therapeutic food, and other basic, affordable interventions have saved tens of millions of children’s lives,” said Caryl Stern, president and CEO of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF. “We know what works, but the sad reality is that there are still 18,000 children dying every day of things we can easily prevent. That number should be ZERO. Every child, no matter where he or she lives, should have access to simple, lifesaving solutions.”

The UNICEF report shows sharp reductions in preventable child deaths across all regions of the world, and at all levels of national income, including low-income countries. In fact, some of the world's poorest countries have made the strongest gains in child survival since 1990. 

Low-income countries with high child mortality rates, such as Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Liberia, Malawi, Nepal and United Republic of Tanzania, have already reduced their under-five death rates by two-thirds or more since 1990. Stand-outs include Bangladesh, where the under-five mortality rate has decreased by 72 percent between 1990 and 2012; Brazil, which has cut the mortality rate by 77 percent during that time period; and Ethiopia, which has experienced a 67 percent reduction in under-five child mortality.

In sub-Saharan Africa overall, under-five deaths have been cut by nearly 53 percent since 1990. Since 2005, the annual rate of reduction in under-five mortality has increased nearly five-fold in the region, compared to the early 1990s. 

By contrast, West and Central Africa recorded the lowest level of progress on child survival, compared to other regions around the globe. This region has seen a drop of only 39 percent in its under-five mortality rate since 1990.

The progress made to-date is due to many factors, including the increase in affordable, evidence-based interventions, such as insecticide-treated mosquito nets, medicines, vaccines, proper breastfeeding, nutritional supplements and therapeutic food, rehydration treatment for diarrhea, and improved access to safe water and sanitation.

Just over a year ago, the Governments of Ethiopia, India and the United States, together with UNICEF, launched Committing to Child Survival: A Promise Renewed, a global effort to stop children from dying of causes that are easily prevented.  So far, 176 governments have signed a pledge, vowing to accelerate progress on child survival.

"Progress can and must be made," said Lake. "When concerted action, sound strategies, adequate resources and strong political will are harnessed in support of child and maternal survival, dramatic reductions in child mortality aren't just feasible, they are morally imperative."



The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) works in 190 countries and territories to save and improve children’s lives, providing health care and immunizations, clean water and sanitation, nutrition, education, emergency relief and more. The U.S. Fund for UNICEF supports UNICEF's work through fundraising, advocacy and education in the United States. Together, we are working toward the day when ZERO children die from preventable causes and every child has a safe and healthy childhood. For more information, visit

For additional information, please contact:
Susannah Masur, U.S. Fund for UNICEF, 212.880.9146,
Andrea Sioris, U.S. Fund for UNICEF, 212.880.9136,