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Millions of children live in high-mortality hotspots across sub-Saharan Africa

The good news is that deaths of children under 5 have fallen from nearly 12 million a year in 1990 to fewer than six million last year.

The bad news, according to new research by Stanford scholars, is that more than 15 million children are still living in high-mortality hotspots across sub-Saharan Africa. These children are at risk of losing their lives and pushing up that death rate again.

I describe the research, which was published today in Lancet Global Health, in a press release:

National averages are typically used for tracking child mortality trends, allowing left-behind regions within countries to remain out of sight — until now.

The study is the first to record and analyze local-level mortality variations across 28 African countries. The researchers used data on child births and deaths from the 1980s through the 2000s to develop a high-resolution map. Their work illuminated local-level factors with a significant effect on mortality rates — such as malaria prevalence — that were not as visible in national-level data, the researchers said.

Senior author Eran Bendavid, MD, a Stanford infectious disease physician, explained in the release:

Mortality numbers are typically tracked at the national level, with the assumption that national differences between countries, such as government spending on health, are what determine progress against mortality... The goal of our work was to understand whether national-level mortality statistics were hiding important variation at the more local level, and then to use this information to shed light on broader mortality trends.


Our hope is that the creation of a high-resolution mortality database will provide other researchers new opportunities for deeper understanding of the role that environmental, economic or political conditions play in shaping mortality outcomes. These data could also improve the targeting of aid to areas where it is most needed.

Previously: Building hope in the slums of AfricaReductions in child mortality have closed the global lifespan inequality gapStanford initiative aims to simultaneously improve education and maternal-child health in South Africa and Child-mortality gap narrows in developing countries

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