- According to the Gates Foundation, fewer babies and toddlers are dying than ever before: The global mortality rate for children under age 5 has declined by more than 50% since 1990.
- This is mostly because of better public-health initiatives: more vaccines, polio eradication efforts, and better maternal and child healthcare.
- But the Gates are worried that as rich countries turn “inward,” they will stop funding some life-saving health campaigns around the world, making the globe less peaceful and stable.
- That might lead more people to migrate.
Bill and Melinda Gates love to spread good news about ways the world is getting better.
On Wednesday, the pair was at it again. In a conference call about global health, they touted the ways in which people’s lives have improved dramatically in the past few decades.
“The poorest parts of the world not only became less poor, they also became much, much healthier,” Melinda told reporters on the call.
She highlighted some impressive stats: The number of kids who die in infancy and toddlerhood has been slashed. Nearly all those gains are the result of better overall health, fewer polio infections, and more vaccines being delivered around the world.
The Gates said these global health improvements are the result of much-needed investments in life-saving vaccines, polio eradication efforts, and the fight against malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV.
Specifically, Melinda Gates pointed to the years 1999 and 2000 as a turning point. That was when both rich countries like the US and UK and organisations like their own Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation stepped up to the plate with cash.
But now, Bill and Melinda Gates said they’re worried that the progress of the 1990s and 2000s won’t continue. The couple warned about what might happen if, as other concerns begin to take the spotlight, wealthy nations forget why it’s important to invest in keeping other people healthy.
Gates is worried the US is becoming too ‘distracted’
Melinda Gates highlighted four key programs that were key in these dramatic health advances: Gavi, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and The Global Financing Facility.
Investments in these programs, the Gates argued, are the reason people are living healthier, more productive lives across the world, driving childhood mortality down.
“All four of these [programs] are at kind of a critical point where the level of distraction by domestic issues or issues that are confined to the rich world do make us somewhat concerned,” Bill Gates said on the call. “The great success story here and the need to renew these resources may not get the attention it deserves.”
(The Global Fund, for example, is due for its sixth round of funding this October.)
The distractions include the Brexit deal looming over the UK and the US government’s partial shutdown. With the US struggling to fund its own roads, education systems, and even groceries for federal workers, it can be hard to see why the rest of the world should remain a priority.
But Melinda Gates says now is not the time to turn inward.
“We have to make these investments because when you do, people will stay where they are,” she said. “They want to stay in their communities and live a healthy life and … get a great job and form a great economy where they are.”
In other words, Melinda Gates suggests that it is by making an investment in the well-being of others – not building walls to keep them out – that we could make the world a place where people wish to migrate less.
The Gates think global health is the best investment we can make
When countries get healthier, people can spend more time educating themselves, generating new creative ideas, and lifting themselves out of poverty. Gates said that many of the countries that are benefiting from the four health programs are doing just that.
“India, Indonesia, and Vietnam are all graduating because of good news that their income’s going up, so they will be getting less money from all of these funds, but making sure they don’t drop any vaccines,” he said.
But with a wave of new people expected to be born across Africa, the Gates said now is the time to double down on investing in other countries that have yet to “graduate.”
In last year’s Goalkeepers report, the Gates Foundation pointed out that the wave of prosperity that rushed through China in the 1990s and then India in the 2000s – which lifted more than 750 million people in those countries above $US1.90-per-day wage – is not yet guaranteed on the African continent.
Pakistan and Afghanistan are also both behind in the race to eradicate polio because they have been dealing with years of war and unrest.
“We want to make sure that the low-income countries continue to grow and have the opportunity to move to that middle-income status,” Melinda said. “That’s why we have to keep making these investments that are paying off incredibly well, for all of us.”
In the UK and US, those investments aren’t that huge relative to other spending.
The UK spends about 0.7% of its budget every year on foreign aid, while the US spends just over 1% of its budget on USAID: $US50 billion of its $US4 trillion annual cash load. Melinda said those investments provide significant benefits to US and UK citizens.
“If we want peace and stability around the world, we need to make these investments in health,” she said. “Because health is what then allows people to go on and get a great education and participate fully and reach their full potential.”
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