Improving health is central to the World Bank and goal 5 under the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a program that vigorously promotes human development as the key to sustaining social and economic progress in all countries. The MDGs recognize the importance of creating a global partnership for development and have been commonly accepted as a framework for measuring development progress.

To reduce inequities, many countries have emphasized primary health care, including immunization, sanitation, access to safe drinking water, and safe motherhood initiatives. This year’s World Development Indicators has found several regional improvements, such as in the Latin American and the Caribbean region, but also regions where improvements are needed.

The Latin America and Caribbean region has made impressive achievements in maternal and child health.  The region has matched East Asia and the Pacific and Europe and Central Asia in infant and child mortality rates. More than 80 percent of births in the region are attended by skilled health staff. The region has a high rate of contraceptive use (75 percent of married women), and the highest proportion of pregnant women receiving pre-natal care (95 percent of all pregnant women).  But, second only to Sub-Saharan Africa, it also has a high rate of adolescent fertility—72 births per 1,000 women ages 15-19.

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In Europe and Central Asia, infant mortality – the death of live born children before their first year – is the primary contributor to child mortality, and improvements in infant and child mortality are the major contributors to increasing life expectancy in the developing world. The Europe and Central Asia region has made the greatest strides toward reducing infant mortality since 1990, reducing the mortality rate from 41 to 19 deaths per 1,000 live births. Nevertheless adult mortality rates, especially for males, in many countries remain much higher than in other countries at similar income levels. High rates of consumption of alcohol and tobacco and high prevalence of tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS have reduced adult life expectancy over the last 20 years.

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Early pregnancy increases the chance of dying in childbirth. The adolescent fertility rate is highest in Sub-Saharan Africa and is falling slowly. Sub-Saharan Africa is also the developing region with the lowest contraceptive prevalence rate, which has remained at a little over 20% since 2000.

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Though the world overall has made progress, many countries remain off track, particularly fragile states and countries emerging from conflict. Slow progress on meeting the health MDGs has been associated with disappointing advances to healthcare. It’s imperative that countries improve their infrastructure, available staff to deliver services and adequate funding to improve access to healthcare.

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