Despite Drop in Infant Mortality in Latin America, Millennium Development Target Still Unmet
The panorama around the region is mixed, with important delays persisting among diverse socio-economic groups.
(14 January 2008) Latin America registers a significant drop in its infant mortality rate over recent decades, but several countries are still far from meeting Millennium Development Goals, set for the year 2015.
While rates vary from country to country, the reasons for the lag in meeting this MDG target remain the same: low income, teenage motherhood and the lack of basic services and timely health care.
The most recent issue of Challenges, the ECLAC /UNICEF quarterly bulletin, focuses on reducing infant mortality, noting that progress in the region is uneven and requires additional responses.
Infant mortality rates in Latin America and the Caribbean ranged from 81 per 1,000 live births over 1970-1975 to 38 per 1,000 over 1990-1995. They are expected to drop to 22 per 1,000 live births over 2005-2010.
It is estimated that, over the 2005-2010 period, infant mortality levels at or below 10 per 1,000 live births will be registered in Barbados, Cuba, Chile, Costa Rica, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. In contrast, Haiti, Bolivia and Guyana are expected to show rates of some 45 per 1,000 live births.
Many factors play a role in reducing infant mortality, including low-cost primary health care, widespread vaccination programmes, oral rehydration therapy, breastfeeding and well-baby care. Also contributing to improving infant mortality is the region's expanding coverage of basic services (especially water and sanitation), greater access to education and the declining fertility rate.
Decreases in infant mortality have taken place despite persistent poverty, inequality and recurring political and economic crisis in many Latin American countries over recent years, states Challenges.
In Millennium Development Goal 4, Target 5, countries pledged to reduce mortality in children under the age of 5 by two-thirds between 1990 and 2015. This means that a decrease of 45%, on average, should have already been achieved. However, just 14 of 35 countries in the region achieved a decrease exceeding 45%. Cuba has met this target; Guyana, Grenada, Paraguay, Surinam, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines register delays, with infant mortality rates that are above average.
While in some instances the gap between urban and rural areas has shrunk over the past decade, disparities in quality of life remain a source of inequality with important repercussions on infant mortality.
Living conditions and the educational levels of mothers are key factors, the article states. Greater poverty and lesser education bring higher risks of mortality for infants under the age of one.
The infant mortality rate among indigenous children is 60% higher than among non-indigenous children, at 48 per 1,000 live births (in 2000) compared to 30 per 1,000. The gap is even greater for the probability of death before age 5, with an excess mortality rate of 70%.
For more information, contact Martín Hopenhayn, ECLAC Social Development Division, e-mail: martin.hopenhayncepal.org ; or Wivian Belmonte, UNICEF, Regional Communications Officer for Latin America and the Caribbean, e-mail: wbelmonteunicef.org
Contact the ECLAC Information Services Unit at e-mail: dpisantiagocepal.org; telephones: (56 2) 210 2380/2149.