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Health

The Top 10 Causes of Death for Children Around the World

Credit: Kibae Park/UN Photo

In many parts of the world, a childhood illness as common as diarrhea can become life-threatening due to lack of resources to combat it. A pregnant woman’s access to nutritional food can save her and her child’s life. And a deadly case of pneumonia could be cured with a prescription for antibiotics.

The world already has the tools to prevent many childhood deaths, but it will take concerted efforts to coordinate improving sanitation, nutrition, and access to good healthcare to accomplish it.

Growing up in poverty shouldn’t mean a child is at risk for a shorter life or a preventable death.

Here are the top 10 causes of death for kids around the world and the number of lives they claim, according to a 23-year survey published by the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2013.

Pneumonia: 980,000

Around the world, 15% of childhood deaths are from pneumonia, even though the lung infection can be treated by antibiotics. Kids who are malnourished and have weaker immune systems are at greater risk from the disease’s dangers, along with any pre-existing illness like HIV or environmental factors like high pollution that weaken their ability to fight off infection.

Preterm Birth: 740,000

Every year, one in 10 babies is born preterm, or before they’ve been allowed to gestate for 37 weeks, immediately putting them in danger of death and a lifetime of disabilities. In low-income areas, half of the babies who are born preterm die because of a lack of available medical care, care that is readily available in high-income areas. Increasing maternal and newborn medical care in low-income areas is critical for saving the lives of these children whose deaths are readily preventably.

Malaria: 650,000

Mosquito bites shouldn’t be a death sentence  for the world’s children. But in Africa, a child dies every minute from malaria, a disease that’s transmitted from mosquito bites and leads to fever, chills, and vomiting before it progresses. And while death rates have been dropping, malaria vaccines and treatments can help prevent any more unnecessary deaths from this disease.

Neonatal Encephalopathy: 640,000

This condition is caused when a newborn doesn’t get enough oxygen to the brain, sometimes caused by asphyxia by the umbilical cord, and is more common in preterm births that could be prevented by, as noted above, better nutrition and medical care for pregnant moms.

Diarhea: 540,000

Poor sanitation and hygiene coupled with malnutrition are to blame for diarrhea deaths, which affect far too many children in low-income areas in the world. Unclean drinking water can make kids initially sick, leading to malnourishment and dehydration, which can further weaken and even kill children struggling with the disease. Even after infection, children’s lives could be saved with proper rehydration salts and nutrition.

Congenital Anomalies: 530,000

Birth defects — also known as congenital anomalies — lead not just to death, but also to lifelong disability for those who survive. Some of them can be prevented through vaccines and better maternal nutrition, including increasing a pregnant mom’s folic acid and iodine intake, something that can be accomplished with just the addition of table salt.

Newborn Sepsis: 370,000

Infections are one of the leading causes of infant deaths around the world, and neonatal sepsis is chief among them. The disease is treatable if new mothers and families can get sick babies to trained medical professionals quickly, but too often, doctors or nurses who help deliver babies miss the symptoms, according to the World Health Organization.

Other Newborn: 280,000

Other infections, including lower respiratory infections and meningitis, are responsible for another share of newborn deaths and could be assuaged by prompt and accessible medical attention during and after birth.

Protein/Energy Malnutrition: 250,000

When babies are born malnourished it can make them susceptible to a number of deadly infections. Increasing access to nutritional foods for pregnant mothers and mothers of newborns can help ensure that babies are receiving the nutrients they need from their mothers.

The World Health Organization has begun distributing ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF), made up of a paste similar to peanut butter and skim milk and does not require water, to help children quickly gain weight without putting them at risk of water contamination or diarrhea.

Road Injuries: 220,000

Kids are at greater risk for traffic accidents because their mobility and cognitive functions aren’t yet operating at the same speed as adults. They also have softer bones, including their heads, which make them more vulnerable to deadly injuries than adults.

Data compiled by the Just Actions campaign, based on data from the Global Burden of Disease, 2013, and recommendations and information from the World Health Organization.