NEW YORK – The critics of foreign aid are wrong. A growing flood of data shows that death rates in many poor countries are falling sharply, and that aid-supported programs for health-care delivery have played a key role. Aid works; it saves lives.
One of the newest studies, by Gabriel Demombynes and Sofia Trommlerova, shows that Kenya’s infant mortality (deaths under the age of one year) has plummeted in recent years, and attributes a significant part of the gain to the massive uptake of anti-malaria bed nets. These findings are consistent with an important study of malaria death rates by Chris Murray and others, which similarly found a significant and rapid decline in malaria-caused deaths after 2004 in sub-Saharan Africa resulting from aid-supported malaria-control measures.
Let’s turn back the clock a dozen years. In 2000, Africa was struggling with three major epidemics. AIDS was killing more than two million people each year, and spreading rapidly. Malaria was surging, owing to the parasite’s growing resistance to the standard medicine at the time. Tuberculosis was also soaring, partly as a result of the AIDS epidemic and partly because of the emergence of drug-resistant TB. In addition, hundreds of thousands of women were dying in childbirth each year, because they had no access to safe deliveries in a clinic or hospital, or to emergency help when needed.
These interconnected crises prompted action. The United Nations’ member states adopted the Millennium Development Goals in September 2000. Three of the eight MDGs – reductions in children’s deaths, maternal deaths, and epidemic diseases – focus directly on health.