Kids getting the best start in life ever - but there's still room for improvement

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 Photo: Getty Images

It's news that is music to the eyes, ears and hearts of people everywhere: globally, deaths of infants and children have been reduced by nearly 50 per cent.

Recent findings say that there are a number of societal shifts in the past 25 years that have contributed to a significant improvement in maternal and child health, which has directly impacted mortality rates of children.

In a report titled Child and Adolescent Health From 1990 to 2015, it was found that deaths of babies, children and adolescents up to age 19 had decreased from 14.2 million deaths in 1990 to 7.3 million deaths in 2015.

The astonishing findings credit increasing vaccine use, better maternal health, nutrition and scientific leaps in treating disease. 

Speaking to WAMU, Dr Nicholas J. Kassebaum, one of the collaborators on the study, says it's no coincidence that there have been such huge reductions since the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child came into effect in September 1990. He says that since then, the advances made in HIV prevention and treatment, immunisation programs and better pregnancy health have benefited the under fives in particular, leading to less mortality.

The study also identifies better water sanitation and increasing female education rates as impacting mortality rates.

After those first years of life, however, things get a whole lot more complicated. Countries with formerly high infant and early childhood death rates are now dealing with complex health issues around children and adolescents with significant health problems such as congenital birth defects, and inadequate infrastructure to support them.

Schools and mental health facilities are also not equipped to deal with a large increase in the child population. Dr Kassebaum says, "A lot of countries are doing really well in reducing infectious diseases and providing better nutrition but haven't gotten to the point where they can manage the more complicated cases."

In some of the poorest countries, there has been an increased "mortality burden" of childhood disease fatalities, while the rest of the world has improved. These countries, along with those affected by war, are also carrying more of the weight of non-fatal diseases and injuries than they were in 1990, so the wealth divide is impacting childhood health more than ever. 

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Locally, Australia's advances in mental health screening and treatment has reduced teenage suicide rates.

And in countries where child marriage was once usual, there are a lot less infant and maternal deaths around adolescent pregnancy.

The news that childhood deaths have decreased by so much, particularly for the under-fives, is profound, as it proves that systems put in place around rights of children and maternal health are having a huge impact.

This study has unearthed, however, that adolescent health needs more resources. Improvements to health and education systems are also needed to cope with the needs of children who are now living longer.