Levels & Trends in Child Mortality: Report 2020


Published on September 9, 2020, this report assesses the progress made towards reducing child mortality in countries, regions and at the global level. It presents 2019 estimates on infant and under-five mortality. It also presents mortality estimates among children aged 5-14 years and youth aged 15-24.

The report was prepared by David Sharrow, Lucia Hug, Yang Liu and Danzhen You – researchers at the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). It presents data by the United Nations Inter-agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation (UN IGME).

The UN IGME is led by UNICEF and its members include representatives of the World Health Organization, World Bank and other agencies. It was established in 2004 to monitor progress towards achieving the UN's Sustainable Development Goal – SDG 3.2 – of ending preventable deaths of infants and those under five years, reducing neonatal mortality to 12 per 1,000 live births, and the mortality of children under five years to 25 per 1,000 live births, by 2030.

Levels & Trends in Child Mortality: Report 2020 notes that the mortality rate under the age of five has dropped by nearly 60 per cent – from 93 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 38 deaths in 2019. However, the ongoing Covid-19 crisis threatens this improvement as it puts children’s lives at a greater and disproportionate risk. The report emphasises the importance of meeting the target SDG by 2030, which could save the lives of as many as 11 million children under the age of five.


  1. The report states that there has been a significant improvement in mortality rates from 1990 to 2019. Globally, the number of deaths among children below five years reduced from 12.5 million in 1990 to 5.2 million in 2019. The neonatal mortality rate fell from 37 to 17 deaths per 1,000 live births during this period.

  2. Despite the progress made, as many as 7.4 million children and youth under 25 years died due to preventable causes in 2019. About 70 per cent of these deaths ­­– 5.2 million – occurred among children under five years.

  3. Child mortality rates differ across the world, areas in Sub-Saharan Africa being the most severely affected. The region accounted for over half of all under-five deaths in 2019. Central and South Asia recorded 28 per cent of the total deaths – a cumulative 1.5 million – of children under five.

  4. Infectious diseases like pneumonia, diarrhoea and malaria, are major causes of mortality among children under five. Malnourished children are at a higher risk of dying from such illnesses. Preterm birth and delivery-related complications are also common causes of mortality in children of this age.

  5. The World Bank releases a yearly list of countries with ‘fragile and conflict-affected situations’. Its list for 2020 had 37 States, including Afghanistan, Chad and Kosovo. As per 2019 estimates, the UNICEF report states, the under-five mortality rate for the listed countries was nearly three times more compared to other States.

  6. Most countries – except those in South and West Asia – record a higher probability of boys dying before reaching the age of five.

  7. Globally, the report states, the mortality rate of individuals aged 5-24 is lower than that of children under five. It is lowest for children aged 10-14.

  8. Deaths among children and youth aged 5-24 are mainly concentrated in Sub-Saharan Africa, and Central and South Asia. These regions accounted for more than 70 per cent of the deaths in 2019. Injuries, accidents, interpersonal violence and self-harm, are the leading causes of death for children, adolescents and youth of this age group.

  9. Fewer countries have made progress on the SDG target on neonatal mortality, as compared to those on track to meet the goal for under-five mortality. At the current rate, 24 million newborns are likely to die between 2020 and 2030. About 80 per cent of deaths would be recorded in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

  10. It is likely – the report notes – that the Covid-19 pandemic will have considerable and pervasive indirect effects on youth mortality, due to the overburdened health infrastructure; higher economic strain on households; barriers to care and preventative measures such as vaccines and nutrition supplements; and stress related to these sudden changes.

  11. The report states that the impending ‘mortality crisis’ can be prevented by targeting efforts towards vulnerable age groups, regions and communities. The reduction in mortality will require stronger health systems as well as adequate preventative and curative services. In the case of infectious diseases, for example, authorities will have to quickly implement vaccine programmes, provide better nutrition and greater care for such diseases as pneumonia, diarrhoea and malaria.

    Focus and Factoids by Aryaman Padhee.


David Sharrow, Lucia Hug, Yang Liu and Danzhen You


United Nations Children’s Fund


09 Sep, 2020