Gaining Momentum in the Fight Against Child Mortality

May 27, 2019

It can often feel like we’re fighting an uphill battle. And while this is true in some ways, there are also many trends that are heading in the right direction. Rapid advances in mobile technology and connectivity continue to open up opportunities for us to make a difference, and one area where we’re seeing improvement is in child mortality – which is defined as the percentage of children who do not survive for five years after their birth.

Here is an eye-opening animation of child mortality from 1800 to 2015 from Our World in Data. Let’s look at a few of the charts in this animation, starting with what the world looked like 100 years ago.

If we were to start with the chart from 1800 (the earliest available), the entire world would be red, meaning that child mortality was 30% or more in every country. So by 1919 (above), we’re starting to see some countries begin to lower their rates of child mortality, but it’s still incredibly high everywhere. Many of us know someone who was born in a world where child mortality was still 10% or higher everywhere.

As we move forward in time 50 years to 1969, we start to see some improvements.

This was due to a combination of improvements in sanitation, living standards, public health, and clinical practice, including vaccines. You can also see how uneven the progress was during this time, and how improvements were concentrated in higher-income countries.

Finally, let’s look at the most recent data:

You can see that it’s a very different situation today than even in 1969 and entirely different to – and vastly better than – what it was 100 years ago.

Overall, the trends are encouraging, which is an important perspective to have in our work. The situation, however, is still urgent. The absolute number of neonatal and child deaths remains enormous, and many ways, there is more inequality in the world now than there was in the past. But thanks to proven practices developed over this timeframe, the deaths of children today are significantly more preventable than they used to be.

According to our data, frontline workers (FLWs) using CommCare record over 100 preventable deaths every day. In fact, many organizations are using CommCare to accelerate reductions in child mortality by integrating workflows into their programs to support vaccination regimens, refer critical cases to local healthcare facilities, and teach their users how to treat many cases of malnourishment and disease in these populations.

One organization employing such an approach is Catholic Relief Services with their Reducing Maternal and Newborn Deaths (ReMiND) program. This program equips FLWs in India with a CommCare application that follows women and their children throughout pregnancy and for the first few years of the children’s lives.

The application uses audio and visual prompts to help the FLWs systematically assess and counsel the women and children during routine home visits. They use the app to register patients and on each subsequent visit, and it walks them through checklists, questions, and educational prompts to identify any issues, determine if treatments were followed, and share new counseling points based on the results.

In a country that accounts for 18% of the world’s child deaths, the ReMiND project has been able to double the number of home visits performed, halve the number of families who never received a visit, and improve the overall quality of care for these mothers and their children, counseling them on nearly twice as many topics and spotting 43% more danger signs.

If organizations continue to adopt and improve these practices in their own programs, we should expect to see these charts continue to turn blue. We are proud to play a part in accelerating the end of preventable child mortality and other health inequities by helping programs leverage technology to improve their service delivery and become more data-driven.

Written by
Neal Lesh

Chief Strategy Officer

Dimagi

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