This blog post has been corrected and updated.
Approximately one in eight children dies before the age of 5 in sub-Saharan Africa — a rate that has been declining, but is still nearly 20 times higher than in developed nations. A new Lancet study out this week suggests that the multiple interventions applied in the Millennium Villages Project are having a significant impact, and could help those areas reach the UN’s Millennium Development Goal No. 4: to reduce early childhood deaths by two-thirds between 1990 and 2015.
The Millennium Villages Project has been working with governments and communities to provide better public health services, clean water and sanitation, more reliable food production, better roads and schools and other services to more than 500,000 people across 10 African countries. A group of researchers who studied the impact of the program in Millennium Villages Project sites found the mortality rate among children under age 5 dropped by 22 percent in just four years, according to the study, published May 8 in the British journal Lancet.
The rate of decline was even faster when compared to similar villages the group studied, the study says.
The authors attribute the results to the effectiveness of a coordinated approach to sustainable development that has helped increase access to basic medical care and skilled deliveries, greater food security and safer water while reducing rates of malaria, diarrhea and other preventable diseases. The main causes of early childhood death are under-nutrition, diarrhea, pneumonia, malaria, HIV/AIDS and measles.
“These results demonstrate the feasibility of scaling up basic public health delivery in low-income settings,” said Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute and special advisor to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the Millennium Development Goals. “With today’s technologies and good systems design, combined with modest amounts of donor assistance and partnerships with government and local communities, it is possible to achieve the health MDGs even in remote and impoverished villages with initially high burdens of disease.
“We expect continued progress during the remaining years of the project, and the communities are working hard to achieve the MDGs.”
The researchers followed households in Millennium Villages Project sites between 2006/07 and 2009/10 to measure the effectiveness of interventions in the health sector (such as the construction of clinics, the introduction of free basic health care, the distribution of bed nets, and immunization campaigns), as well as in agriculture, nutrition, water and sanitation, and infrastructure vis-