Open Access Highly Accessed Research

Millennium development health metrics: where do Africa’s children and women of childbearing age live?

Andrew J Tatem12*, Andres J Garcia34, Robert W Snow56, Abdisalan M Noor56, Andrea E Gaughan34, Marius Gilbert78 and Catherine Linard78

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Geography and Environment, University of Southampton, Highfield, Southampton, UK

2 Fogarty International Center, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA

3 Department of Geography, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, USA

4 Emerging Pathogens Institute, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, USA

5 Malaria Public Health and Epidemiology Group, Centre for Geographic Medicine, KEMRI - Univ. Oxford - Wellcome Trust Collaborative Programme, Nairobi, Kenya

6 Centre for Tropical Medicine, Nuffield Department of Clinical Medicine, University of Oxford, CCVTM, Oxford, UK

7 Biological Control and Spatial Ecology, Université Libre de Bruxelles, Brussels, Belgium

8 Fonds National de la Recherche Scientifique (F.R.S./FNRS), Brussels, Belgium

For all author emails, please log on.

Population Health Metrics 2013, 11:11  doi:10.1186/1478-7954-11-11

Published: 23 July 2013


The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have prompted an expansion in approaches to deriving health metrics to measure progress toward their achievement. Accurate measurements should take into account the high degrees of spatial heterogeneity in health risks across countries, and this has prompted the development of sophisticated cartographic techniques for mapping and modeling risks. Conversion of these risks to relevant population-based metrics requires equally detailed information on the spatial distribution and attributes of the denominator populations. However, spatial information on age and sex composition over large areas is lacking, prompting many influential studies that have rigorously accounted for health risk heterogeneities to overlook the substantial demographic variations that exist subnationally and merely apply national-level adjustments.

Here we outline the development of high resolution age- and sex-structured spatial population datasets for Africa in 2000-2015 built from over a million measurements from more than 20,000 subnational units, increasing input data detail from previous studies by over 400-fold. We analyze the large spatial variations seen within countries and across the continent for key MDG indicator groups, focusing on children under 5 and women of childbearing age, and find that substantial differences in health and development indicators can result through using only national level statistics, compared to accounting for subnational variation.

Progress toward meeting the MDGs will be measured through national-level indicators that mask substantial inequalities and heterogeneities across nations. Cartographic approaches are providing opportunities for quantitative assessments of these inequalities and the targeting of interventions, but demographic spatial datasets to support such efforts remain reliant on coarse and outdated input data for accurately locating risk groups. We have shown here that sufficient data exist to map the distribution of key vulnerable groups, and that doing so has substantial impacts on derived metrics through accounting for spatial demographic heterogeneities that exist within nations across Africa.

Population; Demography; Mapping; Millenium development goals