How Successful Were the Millennium Development Goals?

As the world embarks on new development goals, there is still confusion about the success of the MDGs. But our research show that at least 21 million lives were saved due to accelerated progress

By: John McArthur and Krista Rasmussen

Did the United Nation’s millennium development goals (MDGs) make any difference? Perhaps no question is more important for assessing the results of global policy cooperation between 2000 and 2015.

But this is a difficult question to answer, because pathways of cause and effect are difficult to discern. In our study we examined which trajectories changed, for better or worse, and to what scale of human consequence. Here we highlight three key findings.

At least 21 million extra lives were saved due to accelerated progress

Our results show that the clearest victories during the MDG era were in matters of life and death. We calculate the number of lives saved beyond “business-as-usual” pre-MDG trends on child mortality, maternal mortality, HIV/Aids, and tuberculosis. We also look at malaria, which is predominantly a subset of child mortality. These indicators show evidence of major accelerations in rates of progress during the 2000s, with the exception of maternal mortality, which experienced more modest acceleration.

Image: Brookings research on child mortality found that 8.8 to 17.3 million children’s lives were saved. AFP/Getty Images

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