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Africa is rising - is poverty falling?

Shanta Devarajan's picture

Several people, from The Economist to this blog, have been highlighting Africa's accelerated GDP growth of about 5 percent a year for the decade before the 2008-9 global economic crisis, and the two years since the crisis. But has this growth served to reduce poverty?

The latest globally consistent estimate of poverty rates has an answer: Yes. 

Using the measure of people living on $1.25 a day or less, the World Bank's poverty measurement team, led by my colleague Martin Ravallion, estimates that the percentage of poor Africans fell from 58 percent in 1999 to 47.5 percent in 2008.  This rate of decline of about one percentage point a year is a welcome change from the previous decade when growth was much slower and the poverty rate increased. 

Tanzania’s Steep Learning Curve

Stevan Lee's picture

Tanzania has shown massive achievements in education – well known progress in primary enrolment plus less well known, but in some ways even more spectacular, growth in post-primary education. 

Yet, Tanzania needs to improve learning outcomes if a virtuous cycle of growth and human capital investment is to be sustained. This is “The Steep Learning Curve” which Tanzania needs to get onto with modest fiscal resources but a rapidly growing number of new students, and therefore with a keen eye for value. This should be possible.

Professional Hazard: Migrant Miners Are More Likely to Be Infected with HIV

Damien de Walque's picture

Gold mine in Johannesburg, South AfricaSwaziland and Lesotho are among the countries with the highest HIV prevalence in the world.
Recent nationally representative estimates reveal an adult HIV prevalence equal to 26% in Swazilandand 23.2% in Lesotho2.

These countries have two other main features in common: they are small countries bordering South Africa and, during the past decades, they were exposed to massive recruitment efforts to work in South African mines. For more than a century, about 60 percent of those employed in the mining sector in the Republic of South Africa were migrant workers from Lesotho and Swaziland3.

In a recent paper4 with Lucia Corno, we started from this set of facts and investigated whether the massive percentage of migrant workers employed in the South Africa’s mining industry for a long period might be one of the main explanations for the high HIV prevalence observed in Swaziland and Lesotho.

Tanzania: Building bridges through education and small businesses

Jacques Morisset's picture

Attracted by the prospects of large unexploited natural gas reserves in the south of Tanzania, big players are in town. The British Gas Group has publicly announced that it may invest over US$35 billion in the next 25 years – 1.5 times Tanzania’s current GDP. Policymakers and donors are jockeying to position themselves and understand what is at stake.

The excitement is well founded but perhaps a little bit premature. According to the most optimistic projections, revenues from natural gas will not materialize for 5-7 years. Moreover, international experience shows that commodity-driven growth does not guarantee success. The Tanzanian authorities are therefore right to prepare for the future by setting up the fiscal and financial rules required for future transparent and rational use of these funds now. They should not forget also to focus on the coming 5-7 years because the economy is facing a number of challenges.

Who ends up being more accountable - governments or citizens?

Stuti Khemani's picture

In our (justifiable) enthusiasm for transparency, we rarely ask whether information provision leads private citizens to help themselves, thereby relieving governments of their responsibilities. If so, we may not be quite there (yet) in finding tools that improve government accountability.

Take the case of community radio, a classic tool for information sharing for accountability in Africa. It is supposed to organize communities and (literally) give voice to the opinions and needs of the marginalized. It also carries public interest messages, communicating the importance of health, education, and democratic values. New data from Benin, a country with a vibrant community radio network, show that people in poorer and far-flung regions are able to access news and information, and share views, because of this medium.

But these data yield some surprising results.

In villages with greater access to community radio, where people are more informed about the value of services, they are more likely to invest their own, private resources in health and education. More informed households are more likely to purchase bed nets from government officials, paying for this public health good to combat malaria, even though nets are supposed to be distributed free.

One million more out of poverty in Rwanda

Omowunmi Ladipo's picture

Over the last couple of years, as I travelled through the Rwandan countryside and talked with farmers, it was clear that something really interesting was happening.  This was confirmed on Tuesday, February 7th when the results of the 3rd Rwandan Household Living Conditions Survey, EICV 3 were released.  The results were, in the words of Paul Collier “deeply impressive” with Rwanda pulling off the very rarely

Creating a level playing field

Wolfgang Fengler's picture

Throughout the slums of this world, poor children are dreaming of becoming football stars and playing in the World Cup. Some of them from Kibera—Kenya’s largest slum—had a shot last weekend, when the International School of Kenya hosted the third “Mini World Cup”.

The event involved more than sixty teams made-up of Kenyan and international children from all walks of life. Two teams from Kibera made it to the top eight teams of the tournament, keeping their dream alive to win the “Cup” in one of the next years. The great thing about football is that all teams, no matter what their social background, have an equal opportunity to win. They start on a level playing field, and they all play by the same rules. When the final whistle blows, there is no reason why one of the teams from Kibera should not lift the Mini World Cup next time, just as Ghana’s Black Stars overcame Team USA in the 2010 World Cup, despite the huge disparity in wealth between the two nations.

In economic development, the equivalent of having a level playing field is equality of access to basic services.

Kenya rising and Germany falling: A tale of two populations

Wolfgang Fengler's picture

Today, October 31, 2011 our planet reaches a new milestone: we are 7 billion people on earth.

In the past, when the world’s population was a fraction of what it is today, the expansion of humanity was a source of alarm and many apocalyptic tales. More than 200 years ago, Thomas Malthus, one of the leading scholars and economists at that time predicted that the world would simply run out of food. Then, we were less than one billion people.

Now I want to take you on a journey into the future.

If it is free, people will queue up…but for how long?

Vijay Pillai's picture

It’s a long ride on a non-motorable road to Pujehun district in the south of Sierra Leone.  We are on a visit to see how the country’s Free Health Care Initiative (FHCI) for pregnant women and young children is working out. 

In the maternity ward of the district hospital, a woman proudly shows us her new born baby – it’s her third child and fourth pregnancy.  But, more importantly, her first child to be delivered in a hospital.  She is among the thousands of women who have delivered in hospitals for the first time since the introduction of free health care. Are we seeing early signs of a change in health seeking behavior among the poor in the country?

Using knowledge to empower poor people

Shanta Devarajan's picture

I felt privileged to speak to the freshman class of Princeton University, my alma mater, at the annual “Reflections on Service”  event organized by the Pace Center.  In my speech, I drew on my work on the 2004 World Development Report, Making Service Work for Poor People and since then in South Asia and Africa, as well as my village immersion experience living and working with a woman in Gujarat, India who earns $1.25 a day. 

Both sets of experiences taught me how government programs—in health, education, water, sanitation, agriculture, infrastructure—that are intended to benefit the poor often fail to do so because they are captured by the non-poor who are politically more powerful.  I suggested to the students that, in addition to getting a good education and undertaking volunteer activities, they consider using their education to inform poor people, so that they can bring pressure to bear on politicians for pro-poor reforms.  The two examples I used to illustrate—citizen report cards in Bangalore and public expenditure tracking surveys in Uganda—were from the 1990s; with the penetration of cell phones in Africa and South Asia, getting knowledge to poor people in 2011 should be easier.

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