By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporter 

MORE THAN 60,000 Filipino children die yearly before their fifth year, according to a United Nations (UN) body, citing lack of access to maternal and child nutrition services in the Philippines.

The UN agency cited poor public services for women and children globally — a situation that could lead to the deaths of almost 59 million children and youth before 2030.  

“In the Philippines, over 60,000 children die annually before their fifth birthday because of complications of premature birth, intrapartum complications, and infectious disease,” the UN Inter-agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation (UN IGME) said in a report.  

More than 25,000 Filipino babies are stillborn every year, it added.  

The report said 60% of Filipino children who die before their fifth birthday are newborns, “pointing to a need to improve health and nutrition outcomes for both mothers and babies.”  

The Philippines, whose healthcare system is among the worst in the world, “needs to increase access to quality maternal and child health and nutrition services, achieve full vaccination of all children,” UN IGME said, adding that the government should deliver on its commitments to ensuring good health and nutrition “through the first 1,000 days of life so that children will not only survive, but thrive.”  

Globally, about five million children died before their fifth birthday and about 2.1 million people aged 5 to 24 years lost their lives in 2021, according to the report.  

It said premature birth and complications during labor are the leading causes of death for children aged 1 to 5, it added.  

Citing a separate report, the UN body said 1.9 million babies were stillborn in 2021.  

More than 40% of stillbirths occur during labor, which could be preventable when women have access to quality care throughout pregnancy and birth.  

Infectious diseases like pneumonia, diarrhea, and malaria pose the biggest threat to babies who survive past their first 28 days, according to the UN body.  

“Tragically, many of these deaths could have been prevented with equitable access and high-quality maternal, newborn, adolescent and child healthcare.”  

The government should boost investment to improve primary healthcare for women and children, Vidhya Ganesh, UNICEF director of the Division of Data Analytics, Planning and Monitoring, was quoted as saying.  

“Every day, far too many parents are facing the trauma of losing their children, sometimes even before their first breath,” she said. “Such widespread, preventable tragedy should never be accepted as inevitable. Progress is possible with stronger political will and targeted investment in equitable access to primary healthcare for every woman and child.”  

The report said there were some positive outcomes, citing a lower risk of death across all ages globally since 2000.  

“The global under-five mortality rate fell by 50% since the start of the century, while mortality rates in older children and youth dropped by 36%, and the stillbirth rate decreased by 35%,” it said. “This can be attributed to more investments in strengthening primary health systems to benefit women, children and young people.”  

Gains, however, have reduced significantly since 2010, the UN body lamented, noting that 54 countries “will fall short of meeting the Sustainable Development Goals target for under-five mortality.”  

It warned that if quick action is not taken to improve health services, almost 59 million children and youth will die before 2030, and nearly 16 million babies will be lost to stillbirth.  

“It is grossly unjust that a child’s chances of survival can be shaped just by their place of birth, and that there are such vast inequities in their access to lifesaving health services,” Anshu Banerjee, director for Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health and Ageing at the World Health Organization, was quoted as saying.  

“Children everywhere need strong primary healthcare systems that meet their needs and those of their families, so that — no matter where they are born — they have the best start and hope for the future.”  

Sub-Saharan Africa accounted for 56% of all under-five deaths in 2021, making it the worst place for children.  

“Children born in sub-Saharan Africa are subject to the highest risk of childhood death in the world — 15 times higher than the risk for children in Europe and Northern America,” the report read.  

“Nearly half of all stillbirths happened in sub-Saharan Africa. The risk of a woman having a stillborn baby in sub-Saharan Africa is seven times more likely than in Europe and North America,” it added.  

Southern Asia came in second, accounting for 26% of all under-five deaths two years ago.  

The UN body said mothers in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia endure the painful loss of babies to stillbirth at an exceptional rate, with 77% of all stillbirths in 2021 occurring in the two regions.  

“Access to and availability of quality healthcare continues to be a matter of life or death for children globally,” it said. “Most child deaths occur in the first five years, of which half are within the very first month of life.”