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Millennium Villages Project Corrects Lancet Paper

In a recent World Bank blog, Gabriel Demombynes pointed out two errors in the comparison of the decline in under-5 mortality rates (U5MR) in the Millennium Villages (MVs) and national averages contained in a recent paper in The Lancet. Upon consideration of these criticisms, we agree with the key points he has raised, and have therefore withdrawn the claim made in The Lancet that the decline of U5MR in the Millennium Villages was three times the national average. The decline was significantly faster than in comparison village sites, but we did not properly investigate whether the decline was faster than national averages, a question that was not part of our study design.

The comparison with the national averages was mistaken for two reasons. The first misjudgment was to compare the MV decline between the baseline for 2005/6 and three-year project period, 2006-9, with the change in DHS data for the entire decade 2001 to 2010. The longer period of the DHS data indeed leads to a sizeable under-statement of the decline in U5MR achieved in sub-Saharan Africa in the relevant period after 2005. This is because the rate of decline in U5MR in sub-Saharan Africa accelerated after 2005. The second misjudgment was to annualize the change in the MV decline over three years rather than four. The team weighed the considerations of how to annualize the overall decline and decided to use three years but Demombynes is correct that four years is the appropriate choice. Therefore, rather than a 7.8% average annualized decline in the MVs, the more appropriate rate of decline to describe, as indicated by Demombynes, is 5.9%.

We thank Demombynes and others for pointing out these corrections, and as noted we have withdrawn the erroneous claims as a result. To improve the performance of the project going forward, we are inviting international public health experts along with critics of the project to join an independent expert committee to review the data collection and help improve its accuracy. We are confident that the Millennium Village Project is helping impoverished communities to make rapid progress towards the Millennium Development Goals, and we believe that the help of independent experts will assist the project and sub-Saharan Africa more generally to achieve the MDGs.

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