ISLAMABAD - Pakistan is off track towards United Nations Millennium Development Goal of reducing child mortality by two-thirds between 1990 and 2015. The child mortality rate in Pakistan merely declined by 23 per cent over the last decade while the newborn mortality rate declined by 15 per cent. It continues to experience high child mortality rates and almost half of under-5 child deaths occur among newborns.

A report 'LIVES on the line-An Agenda to End Preventable Child Deaths'  launched globally by Save the Children Wednesday revealed that the lack of health workers has caused weak routine immunisation and for common childhood illnesses to go untreated, resulting in consistently high rates of child deaths especially in rural and urban slum areas.

"Pakistan must address its health worker crisis in order to accelerate progress in tackling preventable child deaths," stressed the study. The event also included a marathon wherein about 240 children in Pakistan joined the world's biggest marathon calling for government to address health worker crisis. The symbolic race was organised with the collaboration of Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi (ITA). 

The report does not mention Pakistan in the list of countries with high child mortality that have met or are making significant progress towards MDG 4.  Like Nigeria, Pakistan's score falls in the middle of the Every One Index that measures the progress of 75 countries in three areas, including under-5 mortality, equity and sustainability.

Child mortality rates are declining more slowly than average in Pakistan and equity gaps are narrowing more slowly than average. Pakistan's health worker crisis is even more acute in rural and urban slums areas. The inequity has resulted in children from the poorest 40 per cent being twice as likely to die as children from the wealthiest 10 per cent.

To accelerate progress on child survival, Pakistan must aggressively address its health workforce crisis, tackle child malnutrition and improve newborn health, it recommends. It also outlines that Pakistan should increase its focus on addressing nutrition in the first 1,000 days of life and neonatal mortality. Stunting in Pakistan rose from 41 percent in 2001 to 43 percent in 2011. Furthermore, while the globally available data showed a decline, Pakistan has the world's third highest national number of newborn deaths. The neonatal mortality rate of reduction of 0.9 percent has been less than the global average of 2.1 percent and less than the national maternal and child mortality rate of reduction.

Every hour of every day, 40 children in Pakistan die before celebrating their fifth birthday, one of the highest rates in the world, said David Skinner, Country Director Save the Children in Pakistan. He remarked that 'health workers are absolutely essential if we are to end preventable child deaths. They are crucial in delivering newborns, giving out routine immunisation, diagnosing and treating common childhood diseases and providing nutrition advice to mothers'.

To urge immediate action on the issue, 240 children, 120 in Islamabad, 60 in Muzaffargarh (Punjab) and 60 in Sanghar (Sindh) ran a relay marathon, aiming to beat the record of Kenyan athlete Patrick Makau, who covered 42.195 kilometres in a time of 2h3m38s. The global marathon, known as the Race for Survival, involved 50,000 children from 67 countries worldwide, making it the largest ever event organised for children.

The race began with Nasir Iqbal, Pakistan's National Squash champion, Farhan Mehboob, Pakistan's Number 2 Squash player, Jamshed Gul, National Squash Coach and David Skinner, as they led the 4 teams and passed the batons on to the children. The students of private schools participated the marathon and the winning teams were given medals and trophies.

Save the Children Deputy Country Director Ghulam Qadri and anchorperson Farrah Sadia also attended the event.