On Child Mortality

Max Roser has some interesting graphs on child mortality here.

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He also makes an interesting observation on the fluctuations in mortality rates in the 19th century:

A second interesting characteristic that is immediately noticeable is that the series are very ‘spikey’ in the 19th century and are then much smoother in the 20th century. This is partly because the data quality is improving over time but it also shows how frequent crises were in pre-modern times. The decline of crises is an important aspect of improving ‘living standards’. In the ‘Our World in Data’ entry on food price volatility you find a long-run series of food price volatility in Pisa by Cormac O Grada that shows how frequent food crises were.

This is an important observation. One of the key differences between wealthy and relatively poorer countries is the variance in their growth rates. Most advanced economies grow (and have historically grown) at a steady rate (Tyler Cowen for example notes that Denmark never had a “growth miracle”). Developing countries on the other hand experience relatively greater levels of both longitudinal and cross-sectional variation in growth rates. The boom-burst cycles often make it hard for meaningful accumulation of wealth and steady growth of per capita income.

UN reports gains in the global fight against AIDS

There is more good news in the area of public health. A couple of days ago I posted on the decline of human mortality rates in the tropics. Now the UN agency for HIV/AIDS, UNAIDS, reports that HIV infection rates, especially of the mother-to-child variety, are on a downward trend.

The New York Times reports:

New infections with H.I.V. have dropped by half in the past decade in 25 poor and middle-income countries, many of them in Africa, the continent hardest hit by AIDS, the United Nations said Tuesday.

The greatest success has been in preventing mothers from infecting their babies, but focusing testing and treatment on high-risk groups like gay men, prostitutes and drug addicts has also paid dividends, said Michel Sidibé, the executive director of the agency U.N.AIDS.

Adding that:

Some regions, like Southern Africa and the Caribbean, are doing particularly well, while others, like Eastern Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East, are not. Globally, new infections are down 22 percent from 2001, when there were 3.2 million. Among newborns, they fell 40 percent, to 330,000 from 550,000.

Life expectancy in Kenya jumps to 64

The Daily Nation reports:

The life expectancy of a Kenyan has increased to 64 years up from 55 two years ago, a report released on Sunday shows.

The data compiled by the University of Nairobi in partnership with 12 other universities worldwide notes that the life of Kenyans has improved substantially and they can expect to live longer.

The report, State Of The Tropics, further says that Zimbabwe is the only nation in the world that recorded a decline in life expectancy at 47 years.

Madagascar reported the largest improvement in life expectancy to 65.8 years, with large reductions in infant and adult mortality rates.

…. In regional terms, Zimbabwe has a low infant mortality rate, but a very high adult mortality rate (the highest in the world)

Overall, there has been massive improvement in life expectancy in the tropics since the fifties:

…. life expectancy in the tropics has increased by 22.8 years to 64.4 years between 1950 and 2010 and the gap between the life expectancy of women and men has widened in favour of women over the same period.

I guess this calls for an investigation of the real causes of the drop (if the data hold up) in mortality rates (especially infant mortality). Is it better healthcare, diet or just a natural secular trend? Or could it be better economic prospects (since the mid-1990s) that inspire greater investment in healthcare? Also, has the AIDS epidemic peaked in the tropics? Over to you, epidemiologists.

It is a bit odd that a country like Zimbabwe has a low infant mortality rate but a high adult mortality rate – why has the total collapse of state institutions disproportionately affected health provision to adults?

exactly when did the rain start beating africa?

HDI divergence

The new HDI rankings are out. Some in the blogosphere have beef with the new geometric (as opposed to additive) method of calculating final scores. I don’t.

Aid Watch’s beef is that:

The biggest change in method was that the new HDI is a geometric average rather than a normal (additive) average. Geometric average means you multiply the separate indices (each ranging between 0 and 1) for income, life expectancy, and education together and then take the cube root (I know your pulse starts to race here…)

Now, students, please notice the following: if one of these indices is zero, then the new HDI will be zero, regardless of how great the other indices are. The same mostly applies if one of the indices is close to zero. The new HDI has a “you’re only as strong as your weakest link” property, and in practice the weakest link turns out to be very low income (and guess which region has very low income).

My two cents on this discussion is that the Continent looks bad irrespective of how we arrive at its HDI scores. It’s best performers are tiny Botswana and Mauritius. It’s biggest countries and potential engines for growth are the DRC, Ethiopia and Nigeria, need I say more? And per capita income has not changed in most places in half a century.

I rarely disagree with Easterly but on this count I do. Let’s not shift posts for Africa. The idea of “African Standards” is condescending and demeaning to Africans. Norway and Chad look like they are eons apart. If the numbers reflect that fact so be it.

I hope this year’s report embarrasses the African ruling elite enough to wake them up from their stupor (come on, I am allowed one wishful thought per post).

More on this here and here. For a summary of this see Blattman.