New York, NY (BBN) – Child survival in Asia and the Pacific has improved considerably deepening economic disparities have meant that the region’s poor are often unable to access proper health care, the United Nations said.

The region’s robust economic growth, the fastest in the world since 1990, has lifted millions out of poverty and led to numerous improvements, including in child and maternal health, according to a new report by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

In this year’s State of Asia-Pacific’s Children 2008, UNICEF notes that the economic boom has also led to a widening gap between rich and poor which has left millions of women and children unable to access proper health care.

Pneumonia, diarrhoea and malnutrition are the major causes of child death in the region. But vast inequities in income, geography, gender and ethnicity are essentially what stand in the way of children surviving and thriving, the UNICEF said.

Public health expenditure in the region remains well below the world average of 5.1 per cent, with South Asia spending only 1.1 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) and 1.9 per cent being spent in the rest of Asia-Pacific, according to the report.

The UNICEF also said that the ability of India and China to accelerate progress in the areas of child and maternal health will greatly impact global achievement of the health-related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – the set of anti-poverty targets world leaders pledged to achieve by 2015.

In 2006, 2.5 million child deaths occurred in these two countries, accounting for nearly a third of all child deaths: India (2.1 million) and China (415,000).

The UNICEF urged all governments, international agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), civil society and the private sector to “consolidate and deepen” recent gains in the region by extending critical health services.

BBN/SI/SI/AD-06August08-12:57 AM