An international study led by The University of Western Australia and Flinders University has found children under the age of five in Africa are more likely to die than those in wealthy countries due to a degraded environment and increasing population density.
Key factors found to affect high child mortality rates included air pollution, unclean water, poor sanitation, large household sizes, and environmental degradation.
The World Health Organisation estimates that 5.6 million children under five years of age died in 2016 and in sub-Saharan Africa one in 13 children dies before turning five.
The researchers who published the paper in the journal BMJ Open, analysed data to explain the correlation between increased child mortality, environmental degradation and the population density of all mainland countries across the African continent.
Paediatrician Professor Peter Le Souëf, from UWA’s Medical School, said that health professionals had for some time ignored the negative consequences of overpopulation and environmental degradation – including climate change – on child health in developing nations.
“Our research highlights there is a direct correlation between child deaths, population density and environmental degradation so they no longer have a reason to do so with this new evidence,” Professor Le Souëf said.
The relationship between child-health outcomes and causes is based on the most recent data and presents a snapshot in time, rather than what might have been more important historical challenges.
Professor Corey Bradshaw, from the Global Ecology Lab at Flinders University, led the analysis and said the study provided the first empirical evidence that large households were linked to worsening child health outcomes in developing nations.
“Population size in many African countries will increase rapidly over the coming decades, raising concerns that the added pressures on infrastructure and the environment will further compromise child-health outcomes,” Professor Bradshaw said.
The results suggest that environmental degradation is now already at a point where it is compromising food production, water or air quality, or defence against infectious disease.
The study also emphasises the importance of continued investment in clean water and sanitation services, measures to improve air quality, broad-scale family planning and efforts to restrict further environmental degradation.
Jess Reid (UWA Media and Public Relations Adviser) 08 6488 6876
Professor Peter Le Souëf (UWA Medical School) 0419 915 795
Professor Corey Bradshaw (Global Ecology Lab, Flinders University) 08 8201 2090 / 0400 697 665