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How Data Can Save Children’s Lives

In the regions with the highest child mortality rates, we know that infectious diseases cause the most deaths, but we do not know which ones. A new initiative will help diagnose the causes of death more accurately, so that potential interventions can be prioritized accordingly.

SEATTLE – In an age in which data are more plentiful and accessible than ever before, we are accustomed to basing our decisions on as much evidence as we can gather. The more important the decision, the keener we are to ensure that our research is thorough and our information is accurate.

And yet, when it comes to what is arguably one of the most important decisions we face today, we have very little data. As part of the Sustainable Development Goals, adopted by the United Nations last September, the international community has pledged to end preventable deaths of children under the age of five by 2030. And yet, in the regions with the highest mortality rates, we lack the most basic information about why children die. We know that infectious diseases cause the most deaths, but we do not know which ones. When it comes to deciding how best to allocate our resources, we are effectively flying blind.

Since 1990, we have halved child mortality worldwide; but nearly six million children under the age of five still die from preventable causes. Four out of five child deaths occur in Sub-Saharan Africa or South Asia, regions where there are few doctors and even fewer pathologists. Standard medical investigations of the causes of death are rare. In many cases, there is no official death record at all.

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