Step by Step: Methodology and Data Notes

Child Mortality estimates for GlobalPost's special report on child death come from the United Nations Inter-agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation (IGME).

Formed in 2004 in an attempt to harmonize estimates across different arms of the UN, IGME is a collaboration of the World Health Organization, the World Bank, the United Nations Children’s Fund and the United Nations Population Fund. The most recent numbers available were calculated in 2012 and included estimates from 1990 to 2011.

IGME statistics are calculated annually using data from a number of different sources, including country census data and household surveys. The majority of the household survey data IGME uses come from either the Monitoring and Evaluation to Assess and Use Results Demographic and Health Surveys (MEASURE DHS) program or the Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS) program.

While statistics are recalculated each year, surveys, which take months to complete and cost millions of dollars, are conducted in each country only about once every five years. The gaps are filled in using statistical modeling.

The accuracy of child mortality estimates vary from country to country based on the amount of data that has been collected.

Each time a report is published, statisticians rework the estimates for the entire time period being evaluated — not just the most recent year. Statistical models and data improve over time, so the numbers often shift. A report released in 2013, therefore, may not be comparable to a report released in 2012.

The child mortality rate is calculated per 1,000 live births. In this Special Report, we divided 1,000 by the rate to achieve the 1 in X values used in the map.

Cause of death statistics for this project come from the Child Health Epidemiology Reference Group (CHERG). CHERG, a project of the World Health Organization, is a group of experts from the University of Toronto, Harvard University, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Edinburgh and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine — among others. The operation, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is external to the UN system, but provides data to WHO and UNICEF.

The most recent cause of death numbers available at the time of publication were from the CHERG report, “Global, regional, and national causes of child mortality: an updated systematic analysis for 2010 with time trends since 2000,” published in The Lancet in May of 2012.

For this project, GlobalPost focused on the most common causes of death among children under five: neonatal causes, pneumonia, diarrhea and malaria. The “other” category includes measles, injury, AIDS, meningitis, and other conditions.

Neonatal deaths are defined as those that occurred between the age of 0 and 27 days. Conditions in this category include preterm birth complications, intrapartum related events, sepsis, meningitis, tetanus and congenital abnormalities.

For country-level data, children who died from diarrhea and pneumonia during the first month of life were not counted in the neonatal category. Instead, deaths from diarrhea and pneumonia during the first month of life were included in the overall count for those illnesses.

For global-level data, neonatal diarrhea and pneumonia deaths were included in both the neonatal category and the diarrhea or pneumonia category. 

The Millennium Development Goal for child mortality aims to reduce the under-5 death rate by two-thirds (67 percent) between 1990 and 2015. The resolution was one of eight goals established by the United Nations Millennium Declaration in 2000.

The number children who died before they reached the age of 5 declined from 12 million in 1990 to 6.9 million in 2011, according to UNICEF.

To indicate progress toward the United Nation’s goal, GlobalPost used data from UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children 2013 report. The percentage for each country represents a reduction in the under-5 mortality rate from 1990 to 2011. To calculate the the percentages, UNICEF statisticians used raw data from IGME.

More from GlobalPost: Counting the uncountable? Measuring progress in global child health