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Lancet Glob Health. 2018 May;6(5):e535-e547. doi: 10.1016/S2214-109X(18)30059-7.

National and regional under-5 mortality rate by economic status for low-income and middle-income countries: a systematic assessment.

Author information

Institute of Policy Studies, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore, Singapore. Electronic address:
Division of Data, Research, and Policy, United Nations Children's Fund, New York, NY, USA.
Fafo, Oslo, Norway.
Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology, School of Public Health and Health Sciences, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA, USA.



The progress to achieve the fourth Millennium Development Goal in reducing mortality rate in children younger than 5 years since 1990 has been remarkable. However, work remains to be done in the Sustainable Development Goal era. Estimates of under-5 mortality rates at the national level can hide disparities within countries. We assessed disparities in under-5 mortality rates by household economic status in low-income and middle-income countries (LMICs).


We estimated country-year-specific under-5 mortality rates by wealth quintile on the basis of household wealth indices for 137 LMICs from 1990 to 2016, using a Bayesian statistical model. We estimated the association between quintile-specific and national-level under-5 mortality rates. We assessed the levels and trends of absolute and relative disparity in under-5 mortality rate between the poorest and richest quintiles, and among all quintiles.


In 2016, for all LMICs (excluding China), the aggregated under-5 mortality rate was 64·6 (90% uncertainty interval [UI] 61·1-70·1) deaths per 1000 livebirths in the poorest households (first quintile), 31·3 (29·5-34·2) deaths per 1000 livebirths in the richest households (fifth quintile), and in between those outcomes for the middle quintiles. Between 1990 and 2016, the largest absolute decline in under-5 mortality rate occurred in the two poorest quintiles: 77·6 (90% UI 71·2-82·6) deaths per 1000 livebirths in the poorest quintile and 77·9 (72·0-82·2) deaths per 1000 livebirths in the second poorest quintile. The difference in under-5 mortality rate between the poorest and richest quintiles decreased significantly by 38·8 (90% UI 32·9-43·8) deaths per 1000 livebirths between 1990 and 2016. The poorest to richest under-5 mortality rate ratio, however, remained similar (2·03 [90% UI 1·94-2·11] in 1990, 1·99 [1·91-2·08] in 2000, and 2·06 [1·92-2·20] in 2016). During 1990-2016, around half of the total under-5 deaths occurred in the poorest two quintiles (48·5% in 1990 and 2000, 49·5% in 2016) and less than a third were in the richest two quintiles (30·4% in 1990, 30·5% in 2000, 29·9% in 2016). For all regions, differences in the under-5 mortality rate between the first and fifth quintiles decreased significantly, ranging from 20·6 (90% UI 15·9-25·1) deaths per 1000 livebirths in eastern Europe and central Asia to 59·5 (48·5-70·4) deaths per 1000 livebirths in south Asia. In 2016, the ratios of under-5 mortality rate in the first quintile to under-5 mortality rate in the fifth quintile were significantly above 2·00 in two regions, with 2·49 (90% UI 2·15-2·87) in east Asia and Pacific (excluding China) and 2·41 (2·05-2·80) in south Asia. Eastern and southern Africa had the smallest ratio in 2016 at 1·62 (90% UI 1·48-1·76). Our model suggested that the expected ratio of under-5 mortality rate in the first quintile to under-5 mortality rate in the fifth quintile increases as national-level under-5 mortality rate decreases.


For all LMICs (excluding China) combined, the absolute disparities in under-5 mortality rate between the poorest and richest households have narrowed significantly since 1990, whereas the relative differences have remained stable. To further narrow the rich-and-poor gap in under-5 mortality rate on the relative scale, targeted interventions that focus on the poorest populations are needed.


National University of Singapore, UN Children's Fund, United States Agency for International Development, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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