Despite a decline over the past three decades, Myanmar still has the second-highest rate of child and infant mortality in the ASEAN, according to a report based on figures from the 2014 census.

The “Thematic Report on Mortality”, which was prepared by the Department of Population with technical assistance from the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), shows that the rate of child and infant mortality in Myanmar is nearly 250 percent higher than the average across Southeast Asia.

Child and infant mortality refers to deaths that occur before the age of five. In Myanmar, 72 children out of every 1000 die before reaching that age, whereas the regional average is closer to 30 deaths per 1000 births.

In Labutta township, Ayeyarwaddy Region, as many as one in six children die before their fifth birthday.

The rest of Ayeyarwady Region, along with Magwe Region and Chin State, recorded the highest levels of under-five mortality.

The report states that the single most important factor contributing to the deaths of infants and children is low standards of living. Millions of people in Myanmar live in dire conditions in households without safe drinking water, toilets or electricity.

According to the report, substantial reductions in under-five mortality could be achieved by improving people’s living standards, especially in remote areas.

The report also states that “there is a strong correlation between fertility and infant/child mortality. The higher the number of children already born to a mother, the lower the survival chance of a new child.”

Married woman in Myanmar, on average, give birth to five children. A woman’s fifth child is over 500pc more likely to die than her first or second child.

Janet E Jackson, UNFPA country representative for Myanmar, said, “The findings uncover the suffering of children and families. Both infant and child mortality would decrease significantly if women if Myanmar had better access to contraceptives, and could choose how many children to have.”

Male children in Myanmar are at much higher risk of an early death than female children, the report revealed. The figures show under-five mortality is one-third higher for boys than it is for girls.

The report said a possible explanation for this is that boys are often given more autonomy than girls, and encounter more hazards such as traffic, faulty electric wiring and falls. To help protect young boys, the report calls for national campaigns against harmful parenting practices.

Child and infant mortality is a key indicator of the overall health of a country’s population. Myanmar’s rates are nearly two times higher than other developing countries.

Most of the causes of early-age death are preventable. In almost all cases, underlying issues such as malnutrition and poverty can exacerbate what might otherwise be relatively straightforward medical situations.