Preventable mortality of children has been targeted as one of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals for the 2015-30 period. Global decreases in child mortality (4q1) have been seen, although sub-Saharan Africa remains an area of concern, with child mortality rates remaining high relative to global averages or even increasing in some cases. Furthermore, the spatial distribution of child mortality in sub-Saharan Africa is highly heterogeneous. Thus, research that identifies primary risk factors and protective measures in the geographic context of sub-Saharan Africa is needed. In this study, household survey data collected by The Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) Program aggregated at DHS sub-national area scale are used to evaluate the spatial distribution of child mortality (age 1 to 4) across 27 sub-Saharan Africa countries in relation to a number of demographic and health indicators collected in the DHS surveys. In addition, this report controls for spatial variation in potential environmental drivers of child mortality by modeling it against a suite of geospatial datasets. These datasets vary across the study area in an autoregressive spatial model that accounts for the spatial autocorrelation present in the data.
This study shows that socio-demographic factors such as birth interval, stunting, access to health facilities and literacy, along with geospatial factors such as prevalence of Plasmodium falciparum malaria, variety of ethnic groups, mean temperature, and intensity of lights at night can explain up to 60% of the variance in child mortality across 255 DHS sub-national areas in the 27 countries. Additionally, three regions - Western, Central, and Eastern Africa - have markedly different mortality rates. By identifying the relative importance of policy-relevant socio-demographic and environmental factors, this study highlights priorities for research and programs targeting child mortality over the next decade.