If you’re sick of the sad, hopeless stories coming out of Africa, here’s one that made my year. New statistics show that the rate of child death across sub-Saharan Africa is not just in decline—but that decline has massively accelerated, just in the last few years. From the middle to the end of the last decade, rates of child mortality across the continent plummeted much faster than they ever had before.
These shocking new numbers are in a paper released today by Gabriel Demombynes and Karina Trommlerová in the Kenya office of the World Bank. Here are their figures for some of the recent changes in rates of child death across the continent. The numbers in the last column are the percent declines in child death rates every year over the past few years.
Under-5 mortality (per 1,000 live births) in selected
sub-Saharan African countries surveyed since 2005
This is a stunningly rapid decline, and nothing like it was occurring even as recently as the first half of the decade. For comparison, the Millennium Development Goal of a 2/3 decline in child mortality between 1990 and 2015 translates into a 4.3* percent annual decline in child mortality. In other words, the above countries are collectively reducing child mortality at an annual rate much greater than the rate called for by the Millennium Development Goals. They are doing this across hundreds of millions of people, across a vast landscape of hundreds of thousands of villages and cities.
These numbers originally come from the DHS Surveys, which are free and open-access. The paper’s authors investigate the reasons for the decline in Kenya alone, and conclude that in Kenya it results from a combination of broad public health efforts and the recent robust economic growth across the region.
This will be startling news for anyone who still thinks sub-Saharan Africa is mired in unending poverty and death. That Africa is slipping quickly away.
*An earlier version of this post calculated this number incorrectly. Thanks to John Quattrochi for pointing this out.