Education – the best healthy start you can get

1Today is World Health day. Here are several reasons why we hope education is going to be on the tip of everyone’s tongues as they discuss how to reach the SDG goal 3 to “ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.”

Several targets in that goal will require partnerships between health and education sectors, which this blog will demonstrate.

Target 3.1: By 2030, reduce the global maternal mortality ratio to less than 70 per 100,000 live births.

2Educated women are more likely to escape dangers related to pregnancy and childbirth, including pre-eclampsia, bleeding, infections and unsafe abortion, because they know how to adopt simple and low cost practices to maintain hygiene, and make sure a skilled attendant is present at birth.

If all women completed primary education, there would be 66% fewer maternal deaths worldwide, rising to 70% in sub-Saharan Africa.

3Target 3.2: By 2030, end preventable deaths of newborns and children under 5 years of age, with all countries aiming to reduce neonatal mortality to at least as low as 12 per 1,000 live births and under-5 mortality to at least as low as 25 per 1,000 live births.

In 2014, the GEM Report showed that the number of child deaths could be cut by 15% if all women had a primary education. We could cut those deaths in half if all women completed secondary education.

4In 2016, the GEM Report showed the dangers of not achieving the global education goal (SDG 4) for child mortality. If we do manage to achieve universal secondary education for women by 2030 as the goal requires, by 2050, there would be 300,000-350,000 fewer deaths per year in the world.

Without sustained growth in primary and secondary education, on the other hand, the decline in child mortality in sub-Saharan Africa currently happening may begin to slow.

Target 3.3: By 2030, end the epidemics of AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and neglected tropical diseases and combat hepatitis, water-borne diseases and other communicable diseases.

In 2014, the GEM Report also showed that we could cut deaths from diarrhea – one of the biggest killers of children under five – by 30% if all mothers had a secondary education.

9We could cut deaths from malaria by 36%. In India, literate people with schooling up to lower secondary level were more than twice as likely as illiterate people to know that mosquitoes are the transmitters of malaria. They were also about 45% more likely to know that malaria can be prevented by draining stagnant water.

The more schooling people have, the more likely they are to use bed nets, as studies have shown in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where a fifth of the world’s malaria-related deaths occur. In a rural study, in a group of which only 44% had spent the previous night under a bed net, if the household head had completed primary education this increased the odds of bed net use by about 75%, even with other possible factors taken into account.

Our Report that year also showed the extent to which literacy impacts on knowledge about HIV transmission. In sub-Saharan Africa, which accounts for 70% of the world’s HIV infections, the fascinating figure below shows that 91% of literate women know that HIV is not transmitted by sharing food, compared with 72% of those who are not literate.

Knowing where to get tested for HIV is a first step to receiving treatment if needed. But the same figure shows that only 52% of women who were not literate in sub-Saharan Africa knew where to get tested for HIV, compared with 85% of those who were literate.


People who are more literate are more likely to be better informed on a wide range of other beliefs and facts about HIV/AIDS. In Niger, 47% of illiterate and semi-literate women believed a healthy-looking person cannot be infected with HIV, compared with 18% of literate women. In Mali, 52% of illiterate and semi-literate women were not aware that the risk of transmission could be reduced if they took appropriate medication during pregnancy, compared with 20% of literate women.

Target 3.8: Achieve universal health coverage, including financial risk protection, access to quality essential health-care services and access to safe, effective, quality and affordable essential medicines and vaccines for all.

10Providing vaccines is one thing, but ensuring that mothers know the importance of going to a health worker to get them is another. In 2014, the GEM Report showed that there would be a 43% increase in the number of vaccinations administered for diphtheria, tetanus, and whooping cough (DPT3) if all mothers had a secondary education.

The evidence of education’s impact on key health targets is so compelling, it is a wonder why cross-sectoral work has not been part of plans since the word go. The new Sustainable Development Agenda has given us a chance to re-think this. The latest Global Education Monitoring Report is filled with research showing where these links exist already, and where additional synergies can be explored. It’s World Health Day. That means it’s a hugely critical day for people working in Education too.


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