WASHINGTON - Newborns now account for 40% of preventable child deaths worldwide, but only a tiny fraction of international aid targets newborns, according to a report to be published in the medical journal Health Policy and Planning Tuesday.
The study, which was spearheaded by the advocacy group Save the Children and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, comes as the Obama administration, India and Ethiopia prepare to host a summit in Washington on Thursday focused on bolstering efforts to reduce the number of children younger than 5 who die from preventable ailments.
The world is far off track in achieving one of the Millennium Development Goals set in 2000 - of reducing preventable child deaths by 66% by 2015 - but U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Raj Shah told USA TODAY he hasn't given up hope of reaching the target.
"This meeting is about that acceleration," Shah said. "It's about looking at the evidence, making the tough calls and doing things much differently and engaging a much broader set of partners so that we can accelerate progress."
President Obama has emphasized the need to reduce child mortality rates, and USAID has attempted to raise the profile of the issue by enlisting celebrities (Kim Kardashian and Mandy Moore) and politicians (former president Bill Clinton) to submit childhood photos for an online project called Every Child Deserves a 5th Birthday.
The world has made progress in reducing preventable child deaths in recent years. More than 7 million children are expected to die from preventable illnesses this year, down from the approximately 12.4 million who died worldwide in 1990. But the numbers - roughly 20,000 children dying each day - continue to have a transformational effect on societies seeking to achieve peace and stability, Shah said.
In 2010, 3.1 million newborns worldwide died in their first month, 17% fewer than in 2000. But the annual reduction rate of deaths of newborns, now at 2.1%, lags behind that of children ages 1-59 months, which stands at 2.9%.
Official development assistance for maternal, newborn and child health doubled from 2003 to 2008, yet only 6% of this funding mentioned newborns in 2008 and 0.1% of these funds exclusively targeted newborns. The U.S. accounted for $619.5 million in aid from 2002 to 2009 targeting newborns and maternal care, doubling the next biggest donor, the World Bank.
"When we did the funding analysis, it made you feel like laughing and crying at the same time," said Joy Lawn, lead author of the Save the Children study.
UNICEF said in a report last week that pneumonia and diarrhea are two of the leading killers - accounting for 29% of deaths among children under age 5 worldwide - and said the global community should increase its focus on those diseases.
"Deaths due to these diseases are largely preventable through optimal breastfeeding practices and adequate nutrition, vaccinations, hand washing with soap, safe drinking water and basic sanitation, among other measures," the report said.
Shah said the global community needs to do more on all fronts to reduce the yawning death toll.
Ethiopia, India, Nigeria, Pakistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo- five countries that account for nearly half of all preventable deaths of children under 5 - are expected to announce a series of initiatives and new policies at this week's meeting in Washington. Performance needs to improve dramatically among these countries in order to get back on track, Shah said.
"Unlike in prior efforts, where maybe donor countries like the United States, the U.K. or others would dictate the solutions," he said, "in this effort, these countries are co-convening and are defining their efforts."