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Africa Makes Substantial Progress on MDGs, but Much Still to be Done.

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Joe DeCapua

Five years before the target date for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a new report card shows sub-Saharan Africa making substantial progress.  But not all countries there are advancing at the same rate.

The Overseas Development Institute, a British think tank, issued its findings prior to next week’s U.N. summit on the MDGs.

“The main message that comes out … is that African countries are making substantial progress on the MDGs.  Some of that progress is not recognized at the moment because progress is often measured relative to countries’ initial conditions or starting point,” says Dr. Liesbet Steer, who led the report card research.

She says many African countries started from a “very low base.”

“If we look at absolute reduction – and forget for a moment about where they started from – huge progress is being made.  There is better news behind maybe the relative measures that are used in a traditional way,” she says.

Many sub-Saharan African countries faced greater obstacles than other nations when they began their efforts to achieve the MDGs.  Comparing it to a race, for example, one runner may start much closer to the finish line than another.  Both eventually cross the finish line, but one has a lot more ground to cover to get there.

Poverty and hunger

Halving poverty and hunger is the first Millennium Development Goal.

“On a global scale the view is that we will reach the MDG on poverty reduction by 2015, despite the setbacks we’ve had with the (food) crisis.  Again, if we look at Africa, there is variation, but there is some really good news.  When we look at absolute progress measures we find that six out of the top ten performers globally come from Africa,” she says.

She adds that “some countries are doing great.  Some are not doing so well.  And if you look at the hunger target, for example, Ghana…reduced its hunger (rate) significantly from 35 percent to 9 percent.  But at the same time, in the DRC there was a huge increase, more than doubling from 29 percent to over 70 percent.”

The eastern DRC has been plagued by years of war and sexual violence.  A similar increase in hunger can be found for conflict-ridden Somalia.

Maternal Health, AIDS

The MDG of improving maternal and child health has been receiving much attention over the past year.

“Obviously, this is the goal where the least progress has been made globally.  If we look at the numbers, what we do recognize is that there’s huge variation in that goal,” she says.

HIV/AIDS is another area that’s received much attention and money since the MDGs were established.

“This is obviously also a difficult one because Africa definitely is in one of the worst positions,” she says.  “If we look at the coverage of treatment and so on, there is some good news around Africa, but there’s a lot more that needs to be done on that one as well.”

Africa is home to most of those living with HIV/AIDS and most of those who’ve died.

Different perspective on statistics

What stood out for us is that it’s important to recognize that there are different ways of measuring progress.  This doesn’t mean that traditional measures are wrong.  But it’s important to look at things in alternative ways,” she says.

She says an “Afro pessimism” developed after the goals were launched in 2000.  That’s because the MDGs, which are global goals, were also instituted on the country level in Africa.  Steer says that was not the initial intention.

“Applying those in Africa has led some people to thinking things are just not working.  What we found looking at things slightly differently is…there’s actually some positive news out there, there is progress, and it’s good to recognize that,” she says

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