Africa sees some of the biggest falls ever in infant mortality

The Economist:

16 of the 20 African countries which have had detailed surveys of living conditions since 2005 reported falls in their child-mortality rates (this rate is the number of deaths of children under five per 1,000 live births).

Twelve had falls of over 4.4% a year, which is the rate of decline that is needed to meet the millennium development goal (MDG) of cutting by two-thirds the child-mortality rate between 1990 and 2015 (see chart). Three countries—Senegal, Rwanda and Kenya—have seen falls of more than 8% a year, almost twice the MDG rate and enough to halve child mortality in about a decade. These three now have the same level of child mortality as India, one of the most successful economies in the world during the past decade.

… Jeffrey Sachs, an American economist, recently claimed that a big drop in child mortality in his Millennium Villages Project (a group of African villages that his Earth Institute of Columbia University, New York, is helping) is the result of large increases in aid to villagers. In fact, argues Mr Demombynes, the mortality decline in these villages was no better than in the countries as a whole.

The broad moral of the story is different: aid does not seem to have been the decisive factor in cutting child mortality. No single thing was. But better policies, better government, new technology and other benefits are starting to bear fruit. “This will be startling news for anyone who still thinks Africa is mired in unending poverty and death,” says Mr Clemens. But “that Africa is slipping quickly away.”

“No single thing was.” For more, see Millennium Villages Project Retracts Controversial Report.

While we’re on the topic of extreme poverty, see also An absence of optimism plays a large role in keeping people trapped in poverty:

Ms Duflo and her co-authors also found that the beneficiaries’ mental health improved dramatically: the programme had cut the rate of depression sharply. She argues that it provided these extremely poor people with the mental space to think about more than just scraping by. As well as finding more work in existing activities, like agricultural labour, they also started exploring new lines of work. Ms Duflo reckons that an absence of hope had helped keep these people in penury.

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