Letter: Newborn hope

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The Independent Culture
Sir: Steve Connor's statement that "the vast majority of newborns face the same appalling child mortality rates as our ancestors" (Comment, 14 December) is grossly exaggerated.

In the 17th and 18th centuries about 25 per cent of newborns in this country died before the age of five. Very few developing countries still have infant and child mortality rates of this order of magnitude.

Recent estimates prepared by the Population Division of the United Nations give an under-five mortality rate of 8 per cent for the world as a whole. The figure for China, which comprises a fifth of the world's population, is less than 5 per cent; that for the Indian sub-continent (which forms another fifth) is about 10 per cent. In the "more developed regions", which comprise North America, Europe, Japan and Australia/New Zealand and constitute another fifth of the world's total, the rate is down to about 1 per cent.

Only in those countries of sub-Saharan Africa (and perhaps Afghanistan) where a hostile environment has combined with civil war and a complete breakdown of health services, are rates of over 20 per cent likely to be found. And in such countries reliable up-to-date statistics are non- existent.

JOHN BLACKER

Centre for Population Studies

London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

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