Paul D. Shinkman
Childhood deaths in Africa outnumber conflict deaths by 3-to-1, according to newly compiled data.
Three times more children died in Africa from 1995 to 2015 as a result of conflicts than the number killed in conflicts themselves, according to a new study that documents the far-reaching effects of armed clashes on the continent.
The study, published in The Lancet on Aug. 30, highlights the lasting and widespread effects of conflict on children, even those who were not directly present for it. As many as 5 million children and 3 million infants died in Africa during that 20-year period from the lasting and sometimes indirect effects of war, including preventable diseases like dysentery and measles, disruption of basic services like water, sanitation and health care, as well as hunger and malnutrition.
“The effects of armed conflict extend beyond the deaths of combatants and physical devastation: armed conflict substantially increases the risk of death of young children, for a long period of time,” writes study author Eran Bendavid, an associate professor of medicine at Stanford University and a member of its Center for Health Policy. “It might not be surprising that young children are vulnerable to nearby armed conflicts, but we show that this burden is substantially higher than previously indicated.”
The largest prevalence of deaths for children younger than 5 years old were in Nigeria, Uganda, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi, Kenya, Ethiopia, Libya, Egypt and West Africa near Sierra Leone, according to the study.
Infants born within 30 miles of conflict zones had almost an 8 percent risk of dying within the first year of their life compared to those who were born farther away. In conflicts where more than 1,000 people are killed, the risk to infants rises by as much as 27 percent. For conflicts that last for more than five years, infant mortality rose almost four times compared to conflicts that were less than a year long.
The effect of conflict zones on children persisted for those born within 60 miles of one, and as long as eight years after it subsides.
The analysis of child deaths, compiled through population estimates and established data about the prevalence of conflicts, is 10 times higher than the 2015 Global Burden of Disease estimates, the study states.
“These deaths rival other significant causes of death in Africa, including malnutrition,” Bendavid said in an accompanying statement. “Our findings also indicate that the true burden of conflict on health in Africa, and probably elsewhere, is largely unknown, and the figures don’t capture the wider impact, such as effects on other vulnerable populations including young women, non-fatal disease and injury, and long-term disability and trauma.”
Researchers associated with the study caution that the data, while troubling, is skewed by lack of access to conflict zones, mass migrations caused by conflicts and accuracy of estimates.
Three quarters of non-state conflicts around the world since 1989 took place in Africa, according to a release accompanying the study.
The study documented more than 15,000 conflict events that caused almost a million conflict deaths within 35 of the 54 countries on the continent.