New UN report shows mixed results for reaching MDG health targets by end of 2015

Health workers carrying out a spraying operation to eradicate infected Anopheles mosquitoes which spread malaria. Photo: WHO

13 May 2015 – The United Nations health agency today reported that by the end of 2015, the world will have met the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for turning around the epidemics of HIV, malaria and tuberculosis, and boosting access to drinking water, but will likely fall short of reaching other health-related goals in areas such as child and maternal deaths and basic sanitation.

“The MDGs have been good for public health. They have focused political attention and generated badly needed funds for many important public health challenges,” Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) said on the release of this year’s World Health Statistics. While progress has been very encouraging, there are still wide gaps between and within countries, she added.

“Today’s report underscores the need to sustain efforts to ensure the world’s most vulnerable people have access to health services,” Dr. Chan said.

The report’s release comes four months before countries are to decide on new and ambitious global post-MDG targets for the period through 2030, during the annual high-level opening of the UN General Assembly in September.

Summarizing today’s report, which assesses progress towards the health-related goals in each of the 194 countries for which data are available, WHO noted that “results are mixed” for reaching the landmark MDG’s set by governments 15 years ago to guide global efforts to end poverty.

Noting that by the end of the year the world would likely have met targets on turning back pandemics and maternal and child deaths, and increasing access to basic sanitation, the report shows that “progress in child survival worldwide is one of the greatest success stories of international development.”

“Since 1990, child deaths have almost halved – falling from an estimated 90 deaths per 1000 live births to 46 deaths per 1000 live births in 2013,” according to the report.

“Despite great advances, this is not enough to reach the goal of reducing the death rate by two-thirds,” it said. “Less than one third of all countries have achieved or are on track to meet this target by the end of this year.”

The top killers of children aged less than 5 years are: preterm birth complications, pneumonia, birth asphyxia and diarrhoea.

The report also reveals that the number of women who die due to complications during pregnancy and childbirth has almost halved between 1990 and 2013, but “the rate of decrease won’t be enough to achieve the targeted reduction of 75 per cent by the end of this year.”

“In the WHO African Region, one in four women who wants to prevent or delay childbearing does not have access to contraceptives, and only one in two women gives birth with the support of a skilled birth attendant,” it said. ”Less than two-thirds (64 per cent) of women worldwide receive the recommended minimum of four antenatal care visits during pregnancy.”

On a positive note, according to the report, the world has begun to reverse the spread of HIV, with new infections reported in 2013 of 2.1 million people, down from 3.4 million in 2001.

“At current trends, the world will exceed the target of placing 15 million people in low- and middle-income countries on antiretroviral therapy (ARTs) in 2015,” it said.

While the global target for increasing access to safe drinking water was met in 2010, the report noted that “the world is unlikely to meet the MDG target on access to basic sanitation.”

“Around 1 billion people have no access to basic sanitation and are forced to defecate in open spaces such as fields and near water sources,” it said. “Lack of sanitation facilities puts these people at high risk of diarrhoeal diseases (including cholera), trachoma and hepatitis.”

WHO also drew attention to the following 10 facts from the report:

  1. Life expectancy at birth has increased six years for both men and women since 1990.
  2. Two-thirds of deaths worldwide are due to non-communicable diseases.
  3. In some countries, more than one-third of births are delivered by caesarean section.
  4. In low- and middle-income countries, only two-thirds of pregnant women with HIV receive antiretrovirals to prevent transmission to their baby.
  5. Over one-third of adult men smoke tobacco.
  6. Only one in three African children with suspected pneumonia receives antibiotics.
  7. 15 per cent of women worldwide are obese.
  8. The median age of people living in low-income countries is 20 years, while it is 40 years in high-income countries.
  9. One quarter of men have raised blood pressure.
  10. In some countries, less than five per cent of total government expenditure is on health.

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