As we debate the stats of the US economy -- unemployment filings and foreclosure rates -- it's important to put a human face on the global economic meltdown. The financial crisis this year could result in 30,000 to 50,000 additional infant deaths in sub-Saharan Africa, according to a report written by two senior World Bank economists.
How did they conclude this? To reach this estimate the researchers compared Gross Domestic Product -- our most common general indicator of economic strength -- and infant mortality in a host of countries over many years. Then they found the negative difference between projected growth for 2009 and actual growth for 2008. Multiply the past correlation by the current difference and, voila, you have an approximation of how many additional deaths will have resulted from the current crisis.
I know statistics like this can seem hyperbolic. This is indeed a dramatic statistic, and a relatively far-removed correlation can never be taken as causal fact, but the study is rigorous enough that the World Bank has supported it. Using surveys conducted in various years between 1986 and 2004, they compiled histories for 640,000 births. The researchers then compared the infant deaths (in the first year of life) with GDP levels from the 30 countries in which the surveys were conducted.
According to their math, a one-percent drop in GDP correlates to a 0.3 to 0.6 percent increase in infant mortality. It's twice as worse for girls than for boys: that same decline increases mortality among infant boys by 0.3 per 1,000, while it increases that of girls by 0.6 per 1,000. The researchers also looked at deaths among babies born to rural vs. urban mothers and those born to mothers with or without primary school education. Unsurprisingly, infants born to rural and lesser-educated mothers had a higher rate of mortality.
It can't be stressed enough that this estimate is just that -- a best guess. But still, it's an important reminder that when the bailouts and re-regulation are over, we still have a commitment to the developing world for a crisis caused in large part by our meltdown. When we turn back outward, we'll see a world largely made worse by a crisis that came from inside our shores.