The lottery of birth
The lottery of birth

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The lottery of birth

3.1.2 African Millennium Villages Programme

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Figure 5 A young girl receives a vaccination against malaria in Kisumu, Kenya.

A good example of the kind of low cost, grass roots work that has contributed to the success of the Millennium Development Goals is described in the following audio recording by widely respected economist and advisor to the UN Secretary General, Professor Jeffery Sachs.

The Millennium Villages Programme provides free healthcare for childbearing women, the provision of basic training and equipment and some simple, effective interventions that have resulted in significant drops in both child and maternal mortality. The costs are minimal but the outcomes impressive.

Download this audio clip.Audio player: ou_futurelearn_birth_aud_1024.mp3
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First the results of the attempt to cut child mortality through the creation of Millennium Villages in nine countries in sub-Saharan Africa. The idea was to take solutions that are effective but cheap and to offer them in some of the poorest villages in countries such as Rwanda and Senegal with the aim of reducing deaths from conditions such as malaria and diarrhea.
The results have just been published in the journal The Lancet and I was joined from the BBC studio in Beijing by Professor Jeffrey Sachs who is director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University and a special advisor to the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon. He began describing for me what these villages are like.
The Millennium Villages are about a dozen clusters of villages. Each site has about 30 to 50 thousand people and for several years they’ve been working very hard on several different areas of development: agriculture, health, education, improving infrastructure and building businesses.
So if you were to go to these villages would you be able to see that there was a different – that there was something different happening there?
Absolutely! Of course – these are still relatively poor areas. They were selected in part because they were what we call hunger hot spots and now they are still poor by any standards that we say in Europe or the United States but they are improving without a question.
So what sorts of interventions were made in these villages to try to improve child health in particular?
There are absolutely simple, remarkable ways to promote neo-natal survival – that is the survival of the new-born - by a project called, ‘Helping babies breath’ which is to help the baby take their first breath if there’s an obstructed airway and a simple suction by somebody with a little bit of training can save large numbers of new-born lives.
So the idea was to understand what the best methods are across the range of the killers – of the infectious diseases, the deaths around childbirth, the nutritional deficiencies and then identify very basic, low-cost systems to deliver those interventions. And one of our favourite ways is by training community workers – we call them Community Health Workers (CHWs) who are trained and also equipped with mobile phones or smart phones, linked to expert systems and linked to clinics so that these village workers learn very effectively how to treat malaria, how to treat diarrheal disease, how to recognise a child that is chronically under nourished so that they can get nutritional supplementation.
What sort of change have you seen in the mortality rate amongst the children under the age of five?
In the first three years which was 2006-9 we saw the so-called under five mortality rate fall from about 125 to between 80 and 90 in general across these sites. Now what that mortality rate means is that for 1000 births sadly more than 100 – around 125, sometimes 150 children - of those 1000 would not make it to their fifth birthday. They would die before the age of five. And that under five mortality rate declined by about 22% on average in the first three years of the Millennium Village Programme.  
Did you find that people who were from nearby villages would hear that this is the village where you can get the decent healthcare and where there’s a clinic and would people come in to try to get the help from elsewhere?
We faced that at the beginning and could have decided maybe to try to ration the care somehow and have members of the village show ID cards and so on. We chose otherwise that these would be clinics that would be open to the broad public from wherever people showed up. I think that this is not only basic decency but also is a way to spread the idea that, look lives can be saved. There’s no excuse for any of these children to be suffering and dying at the way they have when the diseases are so readily preventable or treatable.
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Read more about the Millennium Villages from their website: Ruhiira’s Midwives, Delivering Hope [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .

Next, you will find out about progress on future goals.


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