Improved antimalaria measures and simple health practices have contributed to the decline of child deaths worldwide, according to a report released by UNICEF in September.

The study showed that an estimated 8.8 million children under five died in 2008 compared with 12.5 million in 1990, a drop of 28 percent and the lowest since recordkeeping began in 1960, UNICEF says.

"These new figures underscore the importance of the work that Rotary does," says 2008-09 RI President Dong Kurn Lee, who chose to focus on child mortality during his term. "The great majority of child deaths are preventable, and most of them can be prevented with relatively inexpensive interventions -- something as simple as a water filter, antibiotics, or a trained birth attendant."

The UNICEF report attributed the drop in child mortality largely to health interventions such as immunizations, vitamin A supplements, improved prevention of mother-to-child HIV/AIDS transmission, and the use of antimalaria mosquito nets.

Although all regions of the world have made progress, millions of children still die each year, with 40 percent of those deaths occurring in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, India, and Nigeria, according to the report.

Lee's emphasis on reducing child mortality inspired clubs and districts to initiate new projects and come together for two international conferences devoted to the issue.

In 2008, more than half of all World Community Service health projects focused on reducing child mortality, involving medical clinics, health care training, and nutrition, according to Rotary International's ProjectLINK database.

Here are a few examples of innovative Rotary club projects that are addressing child mortality:

  • Rotary clubs in Great Britain, Ireland, and Tanzania collaborated to form Rotarians Eliminating Malaria in Tanzania. The group used two Matching Grants and one Health, Hunger and Humanity Grant to provide more than 200,000 mosquito nets to communities in and around Arusha.
  • To help improve maternal health, members of the Rotary clubs of Bagé-Minuano, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, and Jackson Hole Supper, Wyoming, USA, are establishing a center to collect and redistribute breast milk at a hospital in a low-income area of Bagé.
  • The Rotary Club of New Manila Heights, Quezon City, Philippines, launched a project in 2007 to treat 90 children under the age of 10 for tuberculosis. Headed by a Rotarian physician, the effort provides medicine and distributes food to the children.

"It's important to recognize the progress we've made, and how we've made that progress," Lee says. "But we also need to acknowledge that there is still a great deal left to be done in the area of child mortality -- and that there is a very great deal that we as Rotarians can and should be doing."

Learn more: