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Aid: helping 4 million children a year stay alive

Aid from rich to poorer countries is a key factor in why more than four million fewer children a year are dying today than in 1990, according to our new report.

This dramatic drop in child mortality is just one of the transformational changes for children in the developing world over the last two decades.

56 million more children were enrolled in school between 1999 and 2009 helping them secure a brighter and more prosperous future for themselves and their countries.

There have also been big strides in beating killer diseases: 131 countries now have over 90% immunisation coverage for diphtheria, tetanus and major preventable childhood diseases such as measles, compared to just 63 in 1990.

Aid saves lives

These huge advances outlined in the new report shows just how effective aid can be in saving, and improving, the lives of children across the world.

In sub-Saharan Africa, countries that received the most aid over the past decade have made the most progress. These countries had, on average, bigger falls in rates of child malnutrition and infant mortality compared to countries which received less aid.

The research shows how Botswana, for example, saw a huge reduction in children born with HIV thanks to a programme to reduce mother-to-child transmission, paid for by aid.

Similarly, in South Asia, Bangladesh sustained investment in child health funded by donations from international agencies and governments including Britain’s, resulted in a significant reduction in child mortality.

Keeping our promises

The findings underline why it’s so important that we don’t lose the progress we’ve made by reneging on our commitments to the world’s poorest, despite the tough economic climate. It shows that international aid works.

Read our briefing on why aid works. It lists five reasons to give aid and four answers to common questions people ask about international aid.

The report, Progress in Child Well-Being: Building on what works, published by ourselves and the Overseas Development Institute, and co-commissioned by UNICEF, also identifies other factors helping children survive and thrive.

Driving these improvements is leadership from national governments, coupled with economic growth and social investment, well-planned programmes which target the most marginalised groups; and technology and innovation.

Our report found aid works best in coordination with these factors but can also fill gaps, for example when national governments are weak.

Challenges ahead

While the report highlights progress from the last 20 years, it also demonstrates the challenges ahead. Progress has been particularly slow in conflict-affected countries, and inequality is a persistent, and in some cases growing, challenge.

Global child mortality remains high (7.6m children under five died in 2010) and while the number of children whose bodies and minds suffer from malnutrition is declining there are still 171 million stunted children in the world.

The economic crisis and existing funding shortfalls mean that progress on HIV and work on child malnutrition are at risk.

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