CAMBODIA has made dramatic progress in reducing death rates for children younger than 5, and has already met the national Millennium Development Goal for child mortality, according to findings in a new global study.
The findings, however, are much lower than government estimates, and were met with scepticism by local health officials on Monday.
The study, published in the medical journal The Lancet on Monday, concluded that there were 12 deaths per 1,000 children aged between 1 and 5, and 24.5 deaths per l,000 infants younger than 1.
The 2008 national census pegged the mortality rates at 83 per 1,000 children aged between 1 and 5, and 65 per 1,000 infants, a health official said Monday.
The authors of the report concluded that there had been a dramatic global decrease in child mortality, with deaths dropping from 11.9 million in 1990 to an estimated 7.7 million in 2010, but added that the decline would need to be accelerated in order to reach the UN’s goal of cutting child mortality by two-thirds by 2015.
They said another study would be needed to determine why some countries had been more successful than others in reducing child mortality rates, but identified income and education levels as well as progress in combating HIV as key factors.
According to the data, Cambodia had the fourth-highest rate of child mortality in Southeast Asia, placing just ahead of Myanmar, which had 14 deaths per 1,000 live births.
Laos had the highest number of child fatalities in the region, with 19 deaths per 1,000, and East Timor had the second-highest, with 17 per 1,000.
Malaysia had the lowest rate of child mortality in the region, at 0.4 per 1,000 live births.
Thailand and Vietnam recorded 0.7 and 2.1 child deaths per 1,000 live births, respectively.
Despite Cambodia’s poor performance compared to its neighbours, the study found that child mortality rates in the Kingdom were far below national Millennium Development Goal (MDG) targets, which had health officials striving to reduce infant mortalities to 60 per 1,000 and child mortalities to 85 per 1,000 by 2010. The targets for 2015 were 50 infant deaths per 1,000 and 65 child deaths per 1,000.
The Lancet findings came as a surprise to some experts, who said it was unlikely that the numbers had dropped so dramatically in the past two years.
Paou Linar, head of child and maternal health care at the Phnom Penh Municipal Health Department, said the new Lancet figures were encouraging, but that they probably did not reflect an accurate national picture.
“I believe these figures might represent child mortality rates in Phnom Penh, but child mortality in rural areas is still high, which is a concern,” he said.
Sharon Wilkinson, country director for Care International in Cambodia, said it was hard to comment on the Lancet figures without seeing how the study was conducted, but added that she doubted that mortality rates had dropped so dramatically since the government census.
“I would be surprised to hear that the rate of infant mortality has come down from the high number of 65 to 24,” she said, and added that accurate statistics are hard to collect as births aren’t always recorded.
Health Minister Mam Bunheng declined to comment on the accuracy of the Lancet figures, but said he is optimistic that MDG targets pertaining to child mortality are within reach.