Eight signs life is improving for African children

Children in many African countries have a better shot at a healthy life than ever before. We’re marking the International Day of the African Child on June 16 by taking stock of the encouraging if uneven progress Africa has made in the past two decades in improving the odds of survival for children.

There is still a long way to go. But the overall picture for Africa’s children includes bright spots, promising trends, and the prospect of a future when all children have an equal chance to live full and healthy lives.

1. Africa is making strides against the top killers of children.

Group of children standing next to a blue building.

Photo: PATH/Eric Becker.

A half-million fewer African children under age five died between 1990 and 2010 from diarrheal disease and lower respiratory infections such as pneumonia, two of the leading child killers. Premature death and disability from diarrheal diseases fell 34 percent in that period, and death and disability from lower respiratory infections dropped 22 percent, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME).

2. A global effort to stamp out malaria is saving children’s lives.

Woman and toddler sitting on bed with bednet.

Photo: PATH/David Jacobs

The scale-up of proven malaria interventions saved an estimated 3.3 million lives between 2000 and 2012—90 percent of them young children in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

3. Innovation is driving a sharp decline in child deaths.

Young woman holding an infant, with a child standing next to her, as a health worker fills a syringe with vaccine.

Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki.

In sub-Saharan Africa, deaths of children under age five dropped 39 percent between 1990 and 2011, according to the United Nations. Even better news: Since the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were adopted in 2000, the rate of decline has accelerated in 90 percent of countries in sub-Saharan Africa, according to IHME. Globally, new vaccines, drugs, diagnostics, and other health innovations led to 4.2 million fewer child deaths in 2013 compared to 1990, according to IHME.

4. More mothers are surviving pregnancy and childbirth.

Woman holding her baby and smiling broadly.

Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki

Maternal deaths in sub-Saharan Africa began a rapid decline following the adoption of the MDGs. Between 2005 and 2010, maternal mortality dropped by 11.4 percent, in part because of the scale-up of antiretroviral therapy for HIV and AIDS, according to IHME. The odds of survival for children rise sharply when their mothers can care and provide for them.

5. More children—especially girls—are going to school.

Two children standing next to a chalkboard, one pointing to the writing on the chalkboard with a stick.

Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki.

The primary school enrollment rate for African girls jumped from 47 percent in 1990 to 75 percent in 2011, with the rate for boys rising from 58 percent to 79 percent in the same period, according to the UN. That’s an especially promising sign for Africa’s efforts to drive down child mortality because maternal education is a key driver of child survival.

6. More children are gaining access to clean water.

Young boy pumping water

Photo: PATH/David Jacobs

Since 1990, more than 2.1 billion people gained access to improved sources of drinking water around the world. In sub-Saharan Africa, the UN estimates that the proportion of people using improved water sources rose from 49 percent in 1990 to 63 percent in 2011.

7. Better nutrition is improving the odds of child survival.

Man feeding a spoonful of orange-fleshed sweetpotatoes to a baby sitting on her mother's lap.

Photo: PATH/Eric Becker.

Risk factors like suboptimal breastfeeding, vitamin deficiencies, and childhood underweight are on the decline in Africa, according to IHME, leaving children less vulnerable to illness and disease.

8. More children are getting lifesaving vaccines.

Toddler sitting on a woman's lap receiving a vaccination in the left arm.

Photo: PATH/Fatou Kande.

Vaccination coverage has steadily improved in many African countries over the past two decades, according to UNICEF and WHO. Vaccines save an estimated 2 to 3 million young lives per year worldwide.

More information

Bookmark and Share
Posted in Diarrheal disease, HIV/AIDS, Malaria, Maternal and child health, Nutrition, Pneumonia, Vaccines and immunization, Water | Permalink

3 Responses to Eight signs life is improving for African children

  1. The 8 positive signs for Africa fortify hope. Thank You. I have a vision of all African states as part of one nation: the Nation of Africa!

  2. Thanks for sharing the good news. Huge progress is being made. There should certainly be more news coverage of these stories.

  3. Adwoa Owusu-Acheampong

    The markers used in the article for determining improvements in the lives of African children are right on the money, however I still think collectively, we all STILL have a lot more to do to shed more light on the dire situation African children, mothers, etc still face today. Healthcare or rather access to and affordability of healthcare although improving, is still a critical issue that needs to be addressed immediately. Because of the limited number of medical facilities and the shortage of medical staff throughout African countries like Ghana, a high percentage of people die waiting for services, even in emergency situations, and those that are fortunate enough to see a doctor, may still die or have their condition worsened before they ever get their prescription filled or lab work completed. People have to queue or a minimum number of people must be met before certain types of lab work are conducted. People die every single minute from sicknesses with basic solutions…as a result of severe poverty or not being educated or educated enough. In African countries, the majority of the people are uneducated or illiterate, and as a result the poverty levels are high, a combination of these two frequently lead to deadly results for patients. Therefore, Apart from vaccinations which need to be a top priority, dissemination of medical information such as early detection signs for major diseases occurring in the particular region/country needs to be made available to all people, especially the uneducated and poor. This information needs to be translated into the popular dialects of the country and aggressively disseminated via various channels, especially through the radio, since most people in rural areas don’t have access to televisions. Additionally, if possible, there should be an influx of funds from external countries or sources to help in the building of medical facilities across the country so as to allow patients easy and IMMEDIATE access to medical staff. Furthermore, because of the lack of experience and exposure of medical staff to certain diseases, when possible, there should be partnerships forged between hospitals or universities in African countries and first world countries to allow African medical doctors to partake in study abroad or residency abroad programs in an effort to broaden their knowledge and experience.
    Growing up African or in a third world country and living past the age of 30 or even past 5 years is a miracle. The issue has always, always been one of LACK; LACK OF education, information, experience, access, facilities, equipment, transportation, medications, finances, etc makes it near impossible to get the appropriate medical attention at the right time. Without money, without finances, you are doomed and even with enough finances; you may still be doomed because of waiting in queues and/or waiting for lab results.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

See commenting guidelines.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>