Millions of Children’s Lives, Simple Solutions

“In the category of stunning, heartening, woefully underreported good news: In 2000, an estimated 9.9 million children around the world died before age 5. In 2013, the figure was 6.3 million. That is 3.6 million fewer deaths, even as the world’s population increased by about 1 billion.”

This stat, from Michael Gerson’s article in the Washington Post, reflects the continuing avalanche of positive health trends of the last few decades. Gerson gives a shout out to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, an organization that supports vaccinations for some 60% of the world’s children. Gavi does what government programs try but usually fail to deliver–a successful program with low overhead that shuts down when the job is done. Gavi tapers off its subsidization of vaccines over time as local vaccination infrastructure scales up.

We all know how deep and detailed the reporting of the Ebola crisis was. (Now that it’s getting under control we hear much less.) But this much more important story–think of the thousands of children saved from death for every Ebola death–yet stories about vaccinations saving millions never make it to the front page.

Remittances: Bringing It Home

“Sending money home” was something my wife’s grandfather did for his parents during the Depression. Living in rural Appalachia, Ellis Jackson got a job at the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and sent whatever money he made back home. This seems like a kindhearted, if quaint, relic from the past, right?


The positive impact of remittances is another driver of the decline of poverty across the globe. “In 2013, international migrants sent $413 billion home to families and friends — three times more than the total of global foreign aid (about $135 billion). This money, known as remittances, makes a significant difference in the lives of those receiving it and plays a major role in the economies of many countries. Economist Dilip Ratha describes the promise of these “dollars wrapped with love” and analyzes how they are stifled by practical and regulatory obstacles.” from TED

A study of the effect of remittances by the Refugee Migration Movement Research Unit (RMMRU) found that “remittances from international migration contribute to raising the standard of living of not only the recipients but also the non-migrant households living in migration intensive localities through expanding local demand which in turn create employment and increase wages.”

7,256 Fewer Child Deaths Each Day

If you don’t think that foreign aid and development work work, check this out: 7,256 fewer children die every day thanks to the success of programs in developing countries combating infant death from diarrhea, malnutrition, pneumonia, AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.

“If you compare today to the year 2000, there are now 7,256 fewer children dying every single day. If that doesn’t seem like a big deal, read it again, or think of it this way—there are 2.56 million fewer infant deaths each year compared to the year 2000. If you’re a parent, consider the 7,256 families that today did not have to contend with the death of their child.

And this progress isn’t just recent—it has been sustained in a slow march over decades. According to the World Bank, ‘In 1990, more than 12 million children in developing countries died before the age of 5 from diseases such as diarrhea, malnutrition, pneumonia, AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis. By 2012, that number had dropped to 6.6 million.'” —from Impatient Optimists, the blog of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

MDG1: Reduce the worst poverty by half

Before I start, I must clearly declare that I am not saying that the MDGs are the cause of any of these trends. I do believe that the MDGs are clear and known targets that many organizations and governments have coalesced around. AND, the goals are a worthwhile lens through which to gauge progress or regression.

The text below is take directly from the UN Millennium Development goals webpage. My comments are in blue.


Target 1.A:
Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people whose income is less than $1.25 a day

  • The target of reducing extreme poverty rates by half was met five years ahead of the 2015 deadline.
  • The global poverty rate at $1.25 a day fell in 2010 to less than half the 1990 rate. 700 million fewer people lived in conditions of extreme poverty in 2010 than in 1990. However, at the global level 1.2 billion people are still living in extreme poverty.

Comment: Target 1A has been met.

Target 1.B:
Achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all, including women and young people

  • Globally, 384 million workers lived below the $1.25 a day poverty line in 2011—a reduction of 294 million since 2001.
  • The gender gap in employment persists, with a 24.8 percentage point difference between men and women in the employment-to-population ratio in 2012.

Comment: Clearly this goal was not met (IMO an impossible goal). Nonetheless, the “reduction of 294 million since 2001” is quite an achievement.

Target 1.C:
Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people who suffer from hunger

  • The hunger reduction target should be almost met by 2015.
  • Globally, about 842 million people are estimated to be undernourished.
  • More than 99 million children under age five are still undernourished and underweight.

Comment: This goal is nearly met. 

So, on MDG 1, “Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger,” “we” have done a very good job. We should, of course, not rest until there is NO hunger, but these positive trends give reason for hope.

The Skeptics Were Wrong: Millennium Development Goals


When I first learned about the Millennium Development Goals, I was pretty skeptical. Even Jesus said “You will always have the poor among you.” How would these high-minded and undoubtedly myopic set of goals do what many other development goals had not done: succeed?

Here are the goals:

  1. To eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  2. To achieve universal primary education
  3. To promote gender equality and empower women
  4. To reduce child mortality
  5. To improv maternal health
  6. To combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
  7. To ensure environmental sustainability
  8. To develop a global partnership for development

But it turns out that the MDGs are the most successful anti-poverty program in human history. In the coming posts I’ll talk more about each one, and remarkable progress that has been made because of the MDGs.

Watching Progress Before Your Eyes!

While browsing TED Talks on my iPhone app I discovered the Swedish scientist Hans Rosling.

He and two colleagues have created Gapminder, a beautiful, informative, and elegant web platform for showing global development statistics. You must check this out as it shows how major indicators of development–health, GDP, infant mortality, etc.–change over time.

Now of course not all of the data sets point toward progress, but most do. The increase in CO2 over the decades is ominous and disturbing. But trends in most other areas leave much reason for hope.

Check it out!

Foreign Aid & Saving Millions of Children

“Can we use $30 of the taxes you’re already paying to protect 120 children from measles?”  Would you say yes or no?

Bill and Melinda Gates posed this question to readers of their 2014 Gates Annual letter. They’re trying to dispel the myth that US foreign health aid–primarily vaccines, family planning, drugs for people with HIV–is wasted. Of course, if you nose around any multi-billion-dollar budget, whether it’s Apple Computer or a government program, you will find waste. However, the impact of US foreign health aid–about $11 billion annually–has saved millions.

The Gateses “calculated the drop in child mortality since 1980, the start of the ‘Child Survival Revolution’ that made vaccines and oral rehydration therapy much more widespread. It comes to 100 million deaths averted.”

Sounds like a good investment to me.