In heartening news in the global fight against poverty, the worldwide death rates of children under five years of age have dropped by 4.2 million in the last 20 years – from 11.9 million deaths in 1990 to 7.7 million deaths in 2010.

A new report from The Lancet medical journal has revealed that across 21 regions of the world, rates of neonatal, postneonatal, and childhood mortality are declining. Child death rates have dropped by about 2 percent each year from 1990 to 2010, and in many regions - including some of the poorest in Africa - the declines have started to accelerate.

Although these figures are still a long way short of the Millennium Development Goal of cutting the 1990 child mortality rate by two-thirds by 2015, they nevertheless provide evidence of a significant decrease in child death rates and indicate that the millennium strategies are having a very worthwhile effect.

According to a report in the New York Times, factors which have helped lower death rates include vaccines, AIDS medicines, vitamin A supplements, better treatment of diarrhoea and pneumonia, insecticide-treated bed nets to prevent malaria and more education for women.

However, despite this improvement, an enormous number of children are still dying from preventable causes each year, with a third of all deaths occurring in south Asia, and half in sub-Saharan Africa.

In Australia, the risk of a child dying is comparatively very low (4.7 per 1,000 births) but we appear to be lagging behind many other countries in terms of reducing child mortality rates. Click here for more details.

In other foreign aid news, the Federal Government has announced it will provide more than $400 million in foreign aid to Africa by 2015, with funds to go towards helping Africa develop better farming practices and providing development awards, among other things. Click here for more details.

In more disappointing news, however, there have been revelations this week of substantial parts of the foreign aid budget being wasted, with reports that tens of millions of dollars are being squandered on paying mega-salaries to consultants and lucrative contracts to private firms. Please click here to read more.

It is vitally important that Australia continues to increase its commitment to foreign aid – and hence saving lives. However this money must go towards the areas of greatest need – not to lining the pockets of consultants.