LONDON — Child deaths worldwide seem to have fallen faster than officials thought, as a new study estimates that far fewer children are dying every year than previously guessed by the United Nations.
Using more data and an improved modeling technique, scientists predicted that about 7.7 million children under 5 would die this year, down from nearly 12 million in 1990. The study was published online today in the British medical journal, Lancet.
The new estimate is substantially lower than UNICEF’s last estimate of child deaths from 2008.
Then, the agency said about 8.7 million children were dying every year of preventable causes such as diarrhea, pneumonia, and malaria.
“We’re quite a bit farther ahead than we thought,’’ said Christopher Murray, one of the paper’s authors and director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.
Murray and colleagues assessed information from 187 countries from 1970 to 2009. They found child deaths dropped by about 2 percent every year, lower than the 4.4 percent needed to reach the United Nations’ target of reducing child deaths by two-thirds by 2015.
Murray said death rates were falling surprisingly fast in countries including Liberia and Niger, but that progress had stalled in rich countries like Britain and the United States.
Where information was limited, researchers used modeling projections to estimate the number of deaths. The research was paid for by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
“We’re very excited because this study reinforces our belief that the scale-up of interventions such as [malaria] bed nets, vaccines and vitamin A [pills] are starting to show an impact,’’ said Mickey Chopra, UNICEF’s director of health.
UNICEF was not linked to the study.