Two-thirds of child deaths in 2010 caused by preventable infectious diseases

Approximately two-thirds of the 7.6 million deaths of children under the age of five worldwide were the result of preventable infectious diseases in 2010, according to a recent Johns Hopkins University study.

Despite the decline of child deaths by 26 percent since 2000, few countries will achieve the international goals set for 2015 for improving childhood survival. Only measles, HIV/AIDS and tetanus have declined enough to meet the Millennium Development Goal 4, but the three diseases only account for a small portion of the global mortality for children under five years of age, the Lancet reports.

"In the past decade, the country-specific under-five mortality rate reduced at an average rate of 2.6 percent per year, which is less than 4.4 percent of the annual rate of decrease needed to reach MDG4", Robert Black, the lead author of the study, said, according to the Lancet. "The attainment of MDG4 is possible only if life-saving maternal, newborn, and child health interventions are rapidly scaled up in high-burden regions and countries and across major causes in the next few years."

Black and his team used household surveys, multi-cause models, verbal autopsy and vital registration systems to determine the causes of childhood death. Two-fifths of deaths occurred within the first month of life, with pre-term birth second to pneumonia as the leading cause of child death in 2010. A third of the deaths occurred in southeast Asia and half of them occurred in Africa. In Africa, 73 percent of child deaths were the result of infectious diseases.

"Across all the previous and current rounds of causes of childhood death estimation, pneumonia and preterm birth complications consistently rank as the leading causes at the global level," the authors said, according to the Lancet. "Africa and southeast Asia are repeatedly the regions with the most deaths in children younger than five years. Our trend analysis shows that accelerated reductions are needed in the two major causes and in the two high-burden regions to achieve MDG4 by 2015."