First do no harm: the impact of recent armed conflict on maternal and child health in Sub-Saharan Africa

J R Soc Med. 2007 Dec;100(12):564-70. doi: 10.1177/0141076807100012015.


Objectives: To compare the rates of under-5 mortality, malnutrition, maternal mortality and other factors which influence health in countries with and without recent conflict. To compare central government expenditure on defence, education and health in countries with and without recent conflict. To summarize the amount spent on SALW and the main legal suppliers to countries in Sub-Saharan African countries (SSA), and to summarize licensed production of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) in these countries.

Design: We compared the under-5 mortality rate in 2004 and the adjusted maternal mortality ratio in SSA which have and have not experienced recent armed conflict (post-1990). We also compared the percentage of children who are underweight in both sets of countries, and expenditure on defence, health and education.

Setting: Demographic data and central government expenditure details (1994-2004) were taken from UNICEF's The State of the World's Children 2006 report.

Main outcome measures: Under-5 mortality, adjusted maternal mortality, and government expenditure.

Results: 21 countries have and 21 countries have not experienced recent conflict in this dataset of 42 countries in SSA. Median under-5 mortality in countries with recent conflict is 197/1000 live births, versus 137/1000 live births in countries without recent conflict. In countries which have experienced recent conflict, a median of 27% of under-5s were moderately underweight, versus 22% in countries without recent conflict. The median adjusted maternal mortality in countries with recent conflict was 1000/100,000 births versus 690/100,000 births in countries without recent conflict. Median reported maternal mortality ratio is also significantly higher in countries with recent conflict. Expenditure on health and education is significantly lower and expenditure on defence significantly higher if there has been recent conflict.

Conclusions: There appears to be an association between recent conflict and higher rates of under-5 mortality, malnutrition and maternal mortality. Governments spend more on defence and less on health and education if there has been a recent conflict. SALW are the main weapon used and France and the UK appear to be the two main suppliers of SALW to SSA.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Africa South of the Sahara / epidemiology
  • Child Mortality / trends*
  • Child Nutrition Disorders / economics
  • Child Nutrition Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Child Nutrition Disorders / etiology
  • Child Welfare* / economics
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Financing, Government / trends*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Maternal Mortality / trends*
  • Pregnancy
  • Warfare*
  • Weapons / economics