Children in the UK are more likely to die before they reach their fifth birthday than in any other western European country except Malta.
Almost five in every 1,000 children born in the UK die before the age of five, a rate the authors of the global study said was surprising for a country with free, universal healthcare. Researchers at the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) in Seattle said that 3,000 children in the UK died before their first birthday in 2012.
Experts said poverty and deprivation in the UK, together with cuts in welfare, were directly linked to the deaths of the youngest children. Babies who die under age of one tend to be from deprived households, have a low birthweight and have parents who smoked. Between ages of one and five, deaths are mostly linked to injuries, accidents and serious diseases such as cancer.
The death rate in the US, which has even greater health inequalities, is worse, at 6.6 child deaths per 1,000 births, but the UK rate of 4.9 is double that of the best in Europe, Iceland, which has 2.4 deaths per 1,000. Sweden, Finland and Norway are also towards the top of the league.
"We were surprised by these findings because the UK has made so many significant advances in public health over the years," said Dr Christopher Murray, IHME director and the study's senior author. "The higher than expected child death rates in the UK are a reminder to all of us that, even as we are seeing child mortality decline worldwide, countries need to examine what they are doing to make sure more children grow into adulthood."
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