Monday, October 11, 2010

TEDxChange - Hans Rosling and the Millennium Development Goals

Rosling loves the Millennium Development Goals

Hans Rosling was his usual sparkling self at TEDxChange.  He loves the UN MDG goals.  Why?  Two reasons.  One, because the UN recognized there are so many interlinked things needed  in a county to bring about a good life – end poverty and hunger, universal education, gender equality, child health, maternal health, combat infection, environmental sustainability, and global partnerships – everything from aid to trade.  Two, he stressed the universal truth that there's no point in having a goal, if you don't make it measurable.  He went on to fucs on one of the goals, reducing child mortality at a rate of 4% decline per year.

There's been gnashing of teeth that the 4% decline in child mortality has not been achieved. But Rosling digs beneath the averages to uncover lots of reason for optimism.  For instance, the averages obscure the achievements of superstar countries like Brazil at 5% and Turkey at a sizzling 7%.   He calls Egypt the poster child country for reducing child mortality.

A Detailed Look at Africa, Especially Kenya

Rosling challenges the notion that there is no data in Africa; it just isn’t collected in the normal way.  Another difficulty is the volatility of the data, where child mortality, after making dramatic gains in the 80s, soared in the 90s, due to the peaking of the HIV/AIDS  epidemic, the resistance to old malaria drugs and social-economic problems.  All of these factors have since been ameliorated, and child mortality is once again on the decline. 

Rosling talked about Kenya in particular.  After a dramatic drop in the late 80’s, Kenya’s child mortality rate increased through the 90’s, leading to a UN forecast of 128 child deaths per thousand in 2010.  Very discouraging.  But data for the year 2008 showed great improvement; adding that one data point lowered the forecast to 84 deaths per thousand.   Rosling thinks even this forecast is too pessimistic, because it uses past data from a period when conditions were dramatically different.

Rosling also breaks down the 1.8% average decline over 20 years in Africa into two periods:  the 80s with its 1.2% improvement  and the 90s, with the much better 2.1% improvement. But even that is an average.  Countries like Congo are stalled because of civil war, while Ghana and Kenya are declining dramatically.  In fact, Ghana is declining at a similar pace to Sweden, which started in the 1800s with child mortality higher than the Congo.  The rate of improvement in  Sweden follows a similar trajectory to that for Ghana and Kenya.  Sweden just got started earlier!  Sweden never met the MDG target rate of 4%; the best it ever did was 3.1%

The 'Developing World' Has Converged on the 'Western World'

He goes on to show the relationship between child mortality and children per woman.  In the 1960s, the so-called ‘developing counties’  had high child mortality and large family size, while the so-called ‘western world’ had low child mortality and small family size.  Since then, both child mortality and family size has declined in most of the 'developing world'.  In fact, most of the developing world is so similar to the western world that the labels no longer apply.  Yet the UN labels South Korea as a developing country!  The country of Samsung?  And Singapore? Singapore has the lowest child mortality in the world!  What balderdash!

The Future Rests with Female Literacy

Rosling ended with the link of improved child survival to female literacy.  Almost 50% of the decline in child mortality can be attributed to female literacy (with a lag of about 15-20 years) according to the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation.  And that in turn leads to smaller family sizes.
Rosling ended with an impassioned plea for the world to continue to focus on child mortality.  Not only is it a moral thing to do, but it is the only way to stabilize world population, which is a strategic investment in the future of all mankind.  Not a small vision.  But then, Rosling's visions never are!

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