Jubilee time to celebrate millions of Commonwealth children’s lives saved by UK aid

4th Jun 2012

British aid has helped reduce by 1.2 million-a-year the number of children who die each year in six Commonwealth countries, research by Oxfam to mark Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee has found.

During the Queen's reign, Bangladesh, Ghana, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Tanzania and Zambia have reduced the number of children who die before they reach primary school age by at least half. All have received significant amounts of aid from the UK taxpayer and continue to do so.

The reduction means 1.2 million fewer children died in 2010 than would have done had the rates stayed unchanged. That is significantly more than the 720,000 babies born annually in England and Wales and also more that the 1 million men women and children that live in Birmingham.

Commonwealth countries have dominated the list of the largest recipients of UK aid since Queen Elizabeth was crowned making them an acid test of its effectiveness. Commonwealth countries also make up more than half of the countries identified as a priority for future investment.  

Since the Queen came to the throne, the UK's aid spending as reported by the OECD has increased from £1.4bn to £8.4bn (2010 prices).  By the end of this Parliament more than half of Britain's bilateral aid will go to Commonwealth countries.

Barbara Stocking, Oxfam Chief Executive, said: "During the Queen's reign UK aid has helped to save millions of children's lives across the Commonwealth. This is something of which Britain can be proud and which we should celebrate during the Jubilee."

Bangladesh has seen the sharpest fall in child mortality, a reduction of 80 per cent over the last 50 years. In 1960 (the earliest year for which figures are available, when it was East Pakistan), a quarter of all children died before they were five. Today 19 out of 20 children live to see their fifth birthday - resulting in 600,000 fewer deaths.

UK aid to Bangladesh pays for vaccines, vitamin supplements and deworming tablets for under-5s as well as helping newborns receive proper care a breastfeeding soon after birth.

Despite the progress in reducing child mortality during the Queen's reign, all six countries have child mortality rates significantly higher than that in the UK (see table below). At 5.3 deaths per 1,000 births, the UK's rate is a ninth of that in Bangladesh. Sierra Leone's child mortality rate of 174 deaths per thousand births means a child is 33 times more likely to die before their fifth birthday than in the UK.

Reducing child mortality in each country to UK levels would save a further 560,000 lives annually.

Stocking said: "Combined with medical advances and the efforts of the countries themselves, aid saves millions of children's lives every year.

"But millions more children throughout the Commonwealth and beyond continue to die unnecessarily because they do not have enough to eat, because they don't get medicines when they are ill or because they don't have a clean water supply.

 "Keeping our promises to the poorest is a matter of life and death for millions who rely on healthcare and other services paid for by British aid."

Contact: Jon Slater 01865 472249/ 07876 4764903/ jslater@oxfam.org.uk

How UK aid for health has contributed to fewer child deaths in six Commonwealth countries

UK aid to Bangladesh has helped child mortality fall by more than 80 per cent between 1960 and 2010 It pays for vaccines, vitamin supplements and deworming tablets for under-5s as well as helping newborns receive proper care a breastfeeding soon after birth.

Ghana has reduced the number of children dying before their fifth birthday by two-thirds - from more than 1 in 5 in 1960 to one in 14 in 2010. The UK currently gives £8m a year to support Ghana's health service.

In Kenya the proportion of children dying before their fifth birthday has fallen from 1 in 5 in 1960 to 1 in 12 today with much of the improvement occurring in the last decade. UK aid there pays for maternal and child health services and since 2002, has provided 14 million bed nets to protect children from malaria. Partly as a result, the number of under-5s sleeping under bed nets has increase from 5 to 47 per cent and that measure alone has saved the lives of more than 100,000 children over time.

UK aid helped Sierra Leone to introduce free healthcare for all mothers and young children for the first time in 2010.  This will further reduce the child mortality rate which fell from 4 in 10 in 1964 to 1 in 6 two years ago. UK aid makes up about 10 per cent of the government of Sierra Leone's budget.

The UK invests £10 million annually to improve healthcare in Tanzania. This has helped the Tanzanian government improve malaria prevention and treatment, increase vaccination rates and reduce the number of mothers passing on HIV to their children. The proportion of Tanzania's children dying before their fifth birthday fell by 62 per cent between 1960-2010.

In Zambia, UK aid is supporting Zambian public health services and the distribution of bed nets to orphans and vulnerable children. The proportion of children in Zambia dying before their fifth birthday fell by 47 per cent between 1960 and 2010.

Country by country: at a glance

Under-5 mortality rates

(deaths per 1000 births)      Lives saved in 2010 ('000s)

1960                 2010

Bangladesh                   251                 48                     613

Ghana                          218                 74                     111

Kenya                          201                 85                     178

Sierra Leone                392 (1964)     174                      49

Tanzania                      241                   92                    219

Zambia                        210                 111                      59

Source: Oxfam analysis of Word Bank's World Development Indicators. 2010 is the last date for which figures are available  

Case study

Sierra Leone used to be the worst place in the world to give birth. In April 2010, the government of Sierra Leone, supported by British aid money, took a huge step in the fight to reduce maternal and child deaths by making healthcare free for pregnant women and children under 5.

By removing health "user fees" up to 1 million children each year now benefit from free care. 

Yawa Mattia (27) brought  her son Alhusine to Makeni Government Hospital with a fever. Alhusine has been in hospital 4 times already in his short life. Yawa sadly lost her first child, before healthcare for under 5's in Sierra Leone was free.

Yawa said: "I'm happy that the hospital is now free, not just seeing the doctor but medicine too. Paying for my son's care would have been very difficult, I am only a market vendor. I believe the doctors here have saved my son's life."

A picture of Yawa Mattia and her son is attached