Penn prof helps UN determine child mortality rate

The child mortality rate compares the number of deaths of children under the age of 5 in a country per 1,000 births in a year.

In the United States, the number is 7. In the United Kingdom and Israel, the number is 4. In China, the number is 11. In Iceland and Finland, the number is 2. In Iraq, it is 32, while it is 48 in India, 69 in Haiti, 91 in Afghanistan, and 157 in Angola.

UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, reports that the worldwide child mortality rate is one death every 11 minutes, or an estimated 5.9 million children in 2015. The figure may sound staggering, but it is actually a great improvement from a quarter-century ago.

In September of 2000, the United Nations created eight Millennium Development Goals, one of which was to reduce the global child mortality rate by two-thirds between 1990 and 2015. The initiative, which recently concluded, found that the worldwide child mortality rate dropped 53 percent, and 62 of the 195 countries reached the goal of a two-thirds reduction.

Michel Guillot, an associate professor in the Department of Sociology in the School of Arts & Sciences and chair of the Demography Graduate Group, is part of the nine-member Technical Advisory Group created to assist UNICEF and other United Nations bodies in deciding the best methodology to determine these statistics.

“It’s not about the causes or the consequences of child-mortality reductions, but about what is the best way to estimate child mortality worldwide, and in all these countries, given the different data situations of each,” he says.

For instance, many countries usually collect information through surveying mothers, but in many developing areas, obtaining accurate information is not always straightforward.

“When a mother has had eight, nine children and there might have been two child deaths, she [sometimes] does not report them,” Guillot says. “Sometimes because she’s reluctant, she doesn’t want to think about it, but sometimes she just forgets [exactly when the children died].”

Other times, Guillot says the sample may not be representative or the survey might have been conducted poorly or is missing important data.

Guillot says there are some surprises among developing countries that have been able to reduce their child mortality rates by two-thirds, including Ethiopia, Eritrea, Liberia, and Madagascar.

The United Nations has a post-2015 development agenda called the Sustainable Development Goals, which asks countries to reduce child mortality by a target number rather than a proportionate amount. By 2030, the goal is to end preventable child deaths and reduce the worldwide child mortality rate from 43 to 25.

“Now in the world, it’s all about accountability, and it’s about metrics, and showing data,” Guillot says, “showing proof that things are going in the right direction.”

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