A Renewed Call to Action: Halving Child Mortality Once More by 2040

Mother, father and newborn baby resting at the postnatal ward at the Prey Khmer Health Clinic. (WHO/Yoshi Shimizu)

In a recent article, Bill Gates reflects on the remarkable progress made in reducing child mortality over the past three decades. He notes that since 1990, child mortality rates have been cut in half, thanks to advances in vaccines, sanitation, and low-tech interventions. Despite this progress, Gates emphasizes that nearly five million children still die each year before reaching their fifth birthday, and another two million are stillborn, with virtually all of these deaths occurring in low- and middle-income countries.

Gates believes that the world can cut child mortality in half again by 2040, primarily because most of the necessary tools and knowledge already exist. He highlights the importance of focusing on maternal health before and during pregnancy to ensure healthy births and children.

Key interventions include using calibrated obstetric drapes to monitor postpartum hemorrhage, administering antibiotics to prevent sepsis during labor, prescribing corticosteroids to speed up lung development in pre-term babies, and providing micronutrient supplements and probiotics to combat malnutrition.

From 1990 to 2019, the world cut child mortality by more than half. It’s one of the most important things humanity has ever done. In this video, Bill Gates explain how it happened—and why he believes it can happen again.

The article emphasizes the critical importance of the first 28 days of a newborn’s life, as half of all under-five deaths occur during this period. Gates calls for renewed investments by governments and organizations to make these life-saving interventions more widely available.

He also stresses the need for continued efforts in improving sanitation, increasing access to clean drinking water, developing vaccines for HIV and malaria, and ramping up vaccine distribution efforts, particularly for the 60 million “zero-dose” children in lower-income countries.

While acknowledging the challenges, Gates remains optimistic that with the right commitment, preventable child deaths can become a thing of the past, and all children will have an equal chance to survive and thrive, regardless of where they are born.

Further Reading

GatesNotes: How to cut child mortality in half… again

WHO: Newborn Health

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