05/31/2012 05:42 pm ET Updated Jul 31, 2012

Ending Infant Mortality

Earlier this month, Africa gave the world some very good news. The Economist magazine reported that the continent as a whole had experienced some of the steepest drops in child mortality ever seen anywhere.

Africa's swift economic growth has become a familiar story; but the fact that fewer children are dying than before -- that people's lives are getting better on the ground -- is arguably more heartening than accounts of improvements in African industry or infrastructure or business (though the trends are probably connected).

The figures will bring many countries into line with the Millennium Development Goals, set out more than a decade ago with the ambitious hope of reducing infant deaths by two thirds between 1990 and 2015; and some countries, at this rate, may surpass them. A representative of the Centre for Global Development said it was "the biggest, best story in development." That's certainly something to celebrate!

The fall in infant mortality rates is widespread across the continent, in countries large and small, Muslim and Christian. Three countries, Senegal, Rwanda and Kenya, have lowered child mortality by 8 percent. No single factor accounts for the speed of the change, The Economist said, but better government, better policies and new technology probably have something to do with it. It is an astonishing transformation.

Such widespread progress is great to hear about and it's also something we need to sustain. Children are the weakest and most vulnerable among us -- and the extent to which the global community stands by when they suffer says something about us all. We must aim to create a future in which infant mortality plays no part.

We will be discussing this and other vital issues at my Dialogue for Action Africa conference in Gabon next month. But it's a wonderful thing that we see such vast improvements in Africa's fortunes. There is plenty for Africans to be proud of.