From: By Will Dunham, Reuters
Published December 9, 2007 07:02 PM

UNICEF cites child health progress, work remains

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Progress in expanding breast-feeding and fighting measles and malaria has improved the health of children worldwide, but many in developing nations still don't have enough to eat, UNICEF said on Sunday.

The United Nations Children's Fund released a report on global child health, citing some strides while pointing to persistent problems in sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere.

"We're seeing some significant progress in a number of areas in different parts of the world," Alan Court, UNICEF chief of programs, told reporters. "There's a lot more to do."

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UNICEF reported in September that annual global deaths of children under age 5 fell below the 10 million mark in 2006, to 9.7 million, for the first time on record, marking a reduction of about 60 percent in the under-5 mortality rate since 1960.

More women are following advice to exclusively breast-feed their babies for the first six months of life.

About 37 percent of babies in developing country are being exclusively breast-fed, up from 33 percent a decade earlier, according to the report. In sub-Saharan Africa, the rate was 30 percent, up from 22 percent a decade ago.

Breast-feeding provides nutritional benefits that can avert 13 percent of deaths of children under 5 in developing countries, the report said.

Countries beset with the mosquito-borne disease malaria have expanded the use of a key prevention tool among children -- insecticide-treated bed nets, with many countries at least tripling coverage between since 2000, the report said.

Court also cited figures released last week showing that measles deaths fell by 91 percent in Africa between 2000 and 2006 due to an initiative to vaccinate children.

More than four times as many children in 2005 compared to 1999 received the recommended two doses of vitamin A supplementation, which can cut a child's risk of death from common illnesses, according to the report.

UNICEF said fewer children in the developing world are underweight, down from 32 to 27 percent in the developing world since 1990, but 143 million children under 5 still suffer from under-nutrition, with more than half of them in South Asia.

More than 500,000 women die annually from complications of childbirth and pregnancy -- about half in sub-Saharan Africa, where a pregnant woman has a 1 in 22 chance of dying, compared to 1 in 8,000 in industrialized countries, the report showed.

(Editing by Maggie Fox and Alan Elsner)

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