(Guardian) - Almost 90,000 Afghan children who would have died before their fifth birthday during Taliban rule will stay alive this year because of improved healthcare, President Hamid Karzai said yesterday.
The under-five child mortality rate in Afghanistan has declined from an estimated 257 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2001 to about 191 per 1,000 in 2006, the ministry of public health said, relying on a new study by Johns Hopkins University.
Mr Karzai, surrounded by children at a news conference in Kabul, thanked aid organisations and Afghan health workers for their work in raising health standards. But Afghanistan continues to face severe problems. The health minister, Mohammad Amin Fatimi, said 250,000 under-fives died every year, mostly from malnutrition, diarrhoea, TB and malaria.
Child immunisations have risen dramatically in recent years, and newly trained volunteer health workers are helping treat pneumonia among villagers in remote areas, said Tariq Ihsan, a deputy director with Save the Children. But he said the youngest children made up the bulk of the high child mortality rate. "Many newborns are dying because they don't have access to immediate healthcare," he said.
Afghanistan's child mortality rate up to age five has been among the worst in the world. Only Sierra Leone, with 283 child deaths per 1,000 live births, Angola (260) and Niger (259) ranked below Afghanistan at 257, Unicef said in a 2006 report.