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The Millennium Villages Project (MVP) has significantly reduced infant mortality at sites across Sub-Saharan Africa, according to a study published this week (8 May) and reported on in Nature News.

The project, which is spearheaded by the Earth Institute at Columbia University in the United States, aims to boost the health and food security of the poorest people in Africa, through investments in fields such as agriculture, the environment, education and health, in partnership with local government and communities, with a view to helping achieve the UN's eight Millennium Development Goals by 2015.

Last year the report was found to be on track to lift people out of poverty, and that finding has now been backed up by fresh research published in The Lancet, with input from the Millennium Villages Study Group, offers quantitative evidence of the success of the MVP model.

Between 2006 and 2009, mortality in under-fives fell by an average of 22 per cent at the sites, according to the Nature story. The Lancet paper notes that child mortality is falling in the MVP sites at a rate that is three times higher than national rural trends over a ten-year period.*

But some researchers have questioned the methods used in the latest study, and have demanded that the project release its underlying data, according to the Nature News article.

"The core of the problem is lack of transparency and careful, independent analysis," said Michael Clemens, a researcher at the Center for Global Development, United States.

He suggested that data from control villages may have included estimates of past mortality rates, which may have been set too high, and that the estimated annual US$120 cost per person of the MVP may be too low.

Clemens also told Nature News that using data collected over a decade did not reflect more recent national improvements in child mortality in control areas, and urged the MPV to provide its raw data to independent scrutineers.

But the Lancet paper's lead author, Paul Pronyk, of the Earth Institute at Columbia University in the United States, has stood by the study's findings.

An MVP scheme starting up in Ghana will be evaluated by independent researchers on behalf of the UK's Department for International Development, which may help to settle the debate, says the Nature News article.

Link to full article in Nature News

Link to full study in The Lancet

*Since publishing this article, The Lancet has issued a correction. Claims of a three-times-faster reduction of the annual mortality rate compared with national rural trends were unwarranted, but the overall conclusions of the study still stand. You can read the correction here.



The Lancet doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(12)60207-4 (2012)