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Millennium Development Goals: background
  1. Mickey Chopra1,
  2. Elizabeth Mason2
  1. 1UNICEF
  2. 2Institute for Global Health, University College, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to UNICEF, 42rd Avenue, 2nd Street, New York, New York, USA. mchopra{at} or Dr Elizabeth Mason, Institute for Global Health, University College London, 30 Guildford St, London WC1N 1EH; elizabeth.mason{at}

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The Millennium Development Goals (MDG) arose from one of the largest ever gathering of world leaders in New York in September 2000.1 Collectively, 189 countries adopted the United Nations Millennium Declaration, which evolved into the MDG.2 These ambitious targets—ranging from halving extreme poverty and reducing maternal mortality by three-quarters to achieving universal primary schooling and halting (and beginning to reverse) the spread of HIV/AIDS—are supposed to be met by the end of 2015.

The Millennium Declaration represented an important break with previous efforts to rally the world around global development. The articulation of specific goals and targets with a heavy focus on social development such as education, health, nutrition and water and sanitation was a distinctive move away from the monolithic focus upon macroeconomic growth. The setting of goals and targets and the establishment of monitoring and accountability frameworks was another important shift.

The process of formulating the MDG must be seen in the context of widespread criticism of the United Nations (UN) during the two decades prior to 2000. The lack of a common development framework alongside declining global aid—for example, the foreign aid budget of the USA hit an all-time low in 1997, at 0.09% of gross national income—allowed global financial institutions such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to dominate development priorities. Not surprisingly, given the ruling paradigm of achieving economic growth by cutting social expenditures and reducing the role of the state, there was insufficient progress in reducing preventable child deaths, especially for those countries in Africa, South Asia and Latin America.

There remains an active debate as to what extent the setting of a limited number of goals and targets has helped or hindered broad and inclusive development across the world. A study by Charles Kenny and Andy Sumner3 suggests …

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