The simple truth is change is possible within one generation. Whilst a great deal of today’s media paints a very negative picture of the world’s level of development, Africa’s ‘tremendous success story’ highlights the reality: great progress is being made. The top rates of decline in African child mortality are the fastest seen in the world for at least 30 years and these rates show no sign of slowing. In actual fact, for most countries, they are speeding up with child mortality falling twice as fast as it was at the very beginning of the 21st century. However, the striking thing about this decline is how widespread it has been. The fall in the number of deaths of children under 5 has been happening in countries both vast and small, Muslim and Christian, and in every region of the continent.
The World Bank recently reported that 16 of the 20 African countries whose living conditions they have been thoroughly surveying since 2005, are experiencing mass declines in their child-mortality rates. In fact, twelve countries had falls of over 4.4% a year which is the rate of decline required to meet the Millennium Development Goal of cutting child-mortality rates by two-thirds between 1990 and 2015. The top three in this group- Senegal, Rwanda and Kenya- have actually achieved declines of almost twice this rate, enough to cut child mortality by one-half in the next decade. This level of child mortality places these countries on par with India, one of the most successful economies of the decade. If this isn’t a promising sign, I don’t know what is.
On the whole, there is no geographical or demographic correlation. Instead, the World Bank believes it is a combination of broad economic growth and specific public-health policies, in particular the increase in the use of insecticide-treated bednets (ITNs), which is responsible for such progression. Bednets are constantly used as an example of how positive foreign aid works. The nets discourage mosquitoes, lowering the incidence of malaria and improving the wellbeing of the populace.
On board with the view that aid is vital, Jeffrey Sachs, an American economist, recently claimed that the large fall in child mortality, in the group of African villages that his Earth Institute of Columbia University are helping, is the result of increased aid to the villagers. Yet, Mr Demombynes, the senior economist of the Nairobi office of the World Bank, points out, the mortality decline in these villages was no greater than in the countries as a whole.
So does aid appear to have been the focal factor in cutting child mortality? Possibly, but it is likely it is a mixture of factors which has seen the decline including new technology, better policies, more sensible governing, aid and due to the work of Africans themselves.
Michael Clemens of the Centre for Global Development said “This will be startling news for anyone who still thinks Africa is mired in unending poverty and death,” This overall sharp decline in mortality rates is just one way that Africa is showing us that this image is unjustifiably negative and basically false.
*Image from the Economist, source: World Bank