The United Nations recently issued The Millennium Development Goals Report, 2015, the latest assessment of progress towards the eight MDGs. In short, they have had mixed results. This article is part of a blog series reflecting on the MDGs and the U.N. report. These are produced in partnership with our colleagues at RESULTS.
>>Authored by Carley Tucker and Sabina Rogers
MDG 4: Reduce child mortality
Target 4.A: Reduce by two-thirds, between 1990 and 2015, the under-five mortality rate
The numbers appear heartening. According to the latest assessment on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), deaths of infants and children under five have greatly reduced. The under-five mortality rate has declined by more than half, from 90 to 43 deaths per 1000 births. Moreover, the annual rate of reduction in child deaths has more than doubled since 1990, and the rate has accelerated the most in Africa.
We learn that 4 out of every 5 of children have received at least one dose of the measles vaccine, preventing 15.6 million deaths between 2000 and 2013. In all, some 48 million children under five are alive today because of smart investments and increasing access to cost-effective health programs over the last 15 years.
This is good news for children around the world; however, underlying these advances is news that the achievements are not equitably distributed regionally, between rural and urban areas, nor socioeconomically.
Across all regions, progress toward MDG 4 has been “fair” to “excellent.” Furthest from reaching the target, though, are those living in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. While sub-Saharan Africa has had the largest decline in child mortality rates, it still experiences half of all child deaths in the world. Of the 10 countries with the highest number of under-five deaths, 5 are in Africa: Nigeria (#2 at 750,000), DR Congo (#4 at 305,000), Ethiopia (#5 at 184,000), Angola (#7 at 169,000), and Tanzania (#10 at 98,000). See the full list in this infographic from Humanosphere.
Children living in rural areas are 1.7 times more likely to die than those living in urban populations. Child mortality is 1.9 times as prevalent among poor households as among wealthy. Those whose mothers lack education are 2.8 times more likely to die than if their mothers had reached the secondary or higher level. So, of the 16,000 children under five who die each day — mostly due to preventable causes such as pneumonia, diarrhea, and malaria — they are likely to be from poor, rural, and uneducated households.
Have we really made substantial progress achieving MDG 4 when young kids in rural and poor communities continue to be the ones more likely to die before their fifth birthday? Allowing this population to fall behind will only exacerbate the vicious cycle of poverty. In order to make permanent advances in reducing early deaths, global development actors need to narrow in on rural and impoverished areas, especially in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
Where do we go from here?
Recognizing the need for a renewed effort towards improving health of the poorest households, the Microcredit Summit Campaign has identified integration of health and microfinance programming as one of its six pathways strategies key to ending extreme poverty. Poverty is both a factor contributing to and consequence of illness and disease, so it is not enough for clients to have access to financial services. The microfinance sector must look for ways to integrate healthcare to their microfinance services. Microfinance institutions (MFIs) can provide health services directly or through linkages with healthcare programs.
Campaign believes that microfinance services provide an optimal place for healthcare. Many MFIs are reaching very rural communities — to say nothing of savings groups, which are primarily a rural financial tool. MFIs have developed trust relationships with families; they meet regularly with clients and can, therefore, pass along information like how to care for their children. In addition, since many MFIs serve regions in Africa and South Asia where child mortality rates are the highest, a strong focus on healthcare will allow these organizations to directly combat this issue in the most afflicted regions.
Microfinance clients must also have access to good healthcare in order to run their businesses, and a healthy lifestyle begins at birth. In the “Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies: Kalinga kay Inay” project, microfinance clients are learning simple but important lessons like the food and nutritional supplements that pregnant and young women need and the importance of giving birth in a health facility. They are attending community health fairs organized by CARD MRI and partners, receiving free gynecological exams, urinalysis, and vitamins and supplements to improve their chances of delivering a healthy baby.
Integrating health and microfinance services will also support the efforts of the new Global Goals for Sustainable Development, which are set to be approved at the Sustainable Development Summit September 25 to 27. The ambitious Goal 3 (“Good health and well-being”) includes ending preventable deaths of newborns and children under 5 years of age by reducing child mortality to 20 or fewer deaths per 1000 births by 2030. It also seeks to reduce by one third premature mortality from non-communicable diseases through prevention, treatment, and promotion of mental health and well being.
There also efforts underway in the United States to maximize future investments by US Agency for International Development (USAID). To reach the goal of ending preventable child and maternal deaths by 2035, USAID has set bold, intermediate goals of saving 15 million child lives and 600,000 women’s lives by 2020. RESULTS, a grassroots advocacy organization, is lobbying for bipartisan legislation that will provide strong congressional oversight and ensure that “returns [are] measured in lives saved and healthy, prosperous communities.” (See the Fact Sheet.)
“We now have the chance to end these needless deaths in our lifetime,” said Joanne Carter, executive director of RESULTS and RESULTS Educational Fund (our parent organization). “The science shows we have the tools. That means in 2035 a child born in the poorest setting could have the same chance of reaching her fifth birthday as a child born in the richest.”