Gates foundation annual letter

Every year Bill and Melinda Gates write a letter on behalf of their foundation reporting on world trends. This year they address it to Warren Buffet, the famously wealthy investor who in 2006 donated the bulk of his assets to the Gates Foundation. (This was the single largest charitable donation in history.)

As it happens, I’m not particularly a fan of Bill Gates, and I think some projects of the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation (none of them relevant to this particular post, however) are based on bad ideas. But what they have to say in this latest letter is worth reading. The world faces some very serious problems, including global warming, but there are also some positive trends. See my previous post for more about that.

There are a number of reasons to take note of positive trends, starting with the fact that there’s a lot to be said for acknowledging reality both good and bad. But if you assume that everything is getting worse, that crime and poverty and war and so on just keep getting worse and worse and worse despite everything we try to do about it, that encouraging just giving up. Recognizing that some things are getting better, that our efforts are paying off, encourages us to try harder. So we should pay attention, for example, to the fact that

  • The number of childhood deaths per year has been cut in half since 1990. “When a mother can choose how many children to have, her children are healthier, they’re better nourished, their mental capacities are higher—and parents have more time and money to spend on each child’s health and schooling. That’s how families and countries get out of poverty.”
  • The fraction of children worldwide getting a basic set of vaccinations against five diseases has reached 86 percent, the highest in world history. The cost is under $1 per child and that tiny investment leads to an average $44 in economic benefits.
  • Extreme poverty has been cut in half worldwide since 1990 (but in surveys only about 1 percent of people know that, and 70 percent think poverty is getting worse).
  • In 1988 when a global campaign of polio vaccinations began, there were on average 350,000 new cases of polio every year. In 2016 there were 37. (Not 37,000, just 37.) All these new cases were in Nigeria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, three countries with internal conflicts that make vaccination difficult.

As the letter acknowledges, not all the news is good. In 2016 a million babies died the day they were born, and in 2015 2.6 percent of babies died before they were one month old. But even some very poor countries have found ways to reduce that death rate by training people in how to help mothers and newborn infants, or example by encouraging breastfeeding and mother-child contact. Doing something about hunger and malnutrition would be a tremendous help, since 45 percent of child deaths are linked to malnutrition.

This is just a brief summary. The letter itself is not all that long and it’s worth reading. Here again is the link.

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