In This Case, Second Place Isn’t Something To Celebrate

Early this month I took my first trip to Abuja, Nigeria. Despite visiting almost 60 countries with Save the Children, I had never been to the West African nation. It is a country of over 162 million, one of the most populous in the region and seventh most populous in the world. With an average family size of almost 7, it has the highest population growth in Africa-today, one out of every four inhabitants of the African continent is a Nigerian. While Nigeria may top the charts in these ways, it also unfortunately has the second-highest number of under-5 deaths. I wanted to understand about why so many children, and especially newborns, are dying in Nigeria.

What I found was a country of great contrasts, on the verge of development but held back by a weak health system, corruption, high rates of HIV/AIDS infection, and civil unrest. For children this is a dangerous mix. Infant mortality is very high at 97 deaths per 1000 live births, most children have dropped out of school by the 5th grade and the country is not on track to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)-goals to meet the needs of the world’s poorest populations-by 2015. The on-going fighting with the Islamist group Boko Haram in the north continues to take the government’s attention (and dollars) away from development activities that could help families.