World health report

Executive summary

Infants and small children

  • Spectacular progress in reducing under-5 mortality achieved in the past few decades is projected to continue, and could even accelerate. There were about 11 million deaths among children under 5 in 1995 compared to 21 million in 1955; there will only be 5 million deaths in 2025.
  • The infant mortality rate per 1000 live births was 148 in 1955; 59 in 1995; and is projected to be 29 in 2025.
  • The under-5 mortality rates per 1000 live births for the same years are 210, 78 and 37 respectively.
  • In 1997, there were 10 million deaths among children under 5 - 97% of them in the developing world, and most of them due to infectious diseases such as pneumonia and diarrhoea, combined with malnutrition.
  • Most of these under-5 deaths are preventable. At least 2 million a year could be prevented by existing vaccines.
  • Some 24 million low-birth-weight babies are born every year. They are more likely to die early, and those who survive may suffer illness, stunted growth or other health problems, even as adults.
  • While most premature and low-birth-weight babies are born in the developing world, many born in industrialized countries owe their survival to high-technology neonatal care. Such care may have increasingly complex ethical implications.
  • Tomorrow's small children face a "new morbidity" of illnesses and conditions that are linked to social and economic changes, including rapid urbanization. These include neglect, abuse and violence, especially among the growing numbers of street children.
  • One of the biggest hazards to children in the 21st century will be the continuing spread of HIV/AIDS. In 1997, 590 000 children aged under 15 became infected with HIV. The disease could reverse some of the major gains achieved in child health over the past 50 years.
  • Better prevention and treatment of some hereditary diseases in small children is likely.