Fast track for positive chance

FOUNDATION HEADS: Bill and Melinda Gates are optimistic about success in the fight against poverty
FOUNDATION HEADS: Bill and Melinda Gates are optimistic about success in the fight against poverty

Lives of poor set to improve quicker than ever before, Bill and Melinda Gates believe.

OVER the next 15 years, the lives of people in poor countries will improve at a faster rate than during any other time in history.

That’s what Bill and Melinda Gates are betting anyway.

In their annual letter, the philanthropic duo have outlined four “major breakthroughs” -covering health, farming, banking and education — which they believe will drastically change the world by 2030.

“A sceptic would look at world problems and conclude things are only getting worse,” they wrote. “And we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact some of the worst-off countries will continue to struggle.”

But the Gateses believe that while technological innovation will continue to drive advances in the rich world, “the improvements in the lives of the poor will be far more fundamental — the basics of a healthy, productive life.”

Here are the four major breakthroughs they are betting on.

HEALTH: Child deaths will decrease by half, two thirds fewer women will die in childbirth, and several serious diseases will be eradicated

“When we look at the progress the world has made in the past generation, since 1990, we believe global health equity is an achievable goal,” the letter said.

In the 15 years since the launch of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the percentage of children who die before the age of five has halved. By 2030, they predict that number will half again, from one in 20 to one in 40.

A major driver of that change will be increased accessibility to vaccines for diarrhoea and pneumonia, as well as improved sanitation, from hand washing to better toilets. Mothers will be encouraged to give birth at delivery facilities, a practice that has already more than doubled in countries such as Rwanda and Cambodia in the last decade, cutting the number of women who die in childbirth by two thirds.

And although just one disease has ever been truly wiped out – smallpox, in 1980 – several more will follow suit in the coming years, including polio, guinea worm, elephantiasis, river blindness and blinding trachoma. By 2030, while malaria and HIV won’t have been eradicated, the world will have reached a tipping point in how the spread of these diseases is controlled.

FARMING: Africa will be able to feed itself

Although 70% of people living in sub-Saharan Africa are farmers – compared to, for example, 2% in the US – the continent still relies on imports and aid to feed itself, spending about $50-billion (R570-billion) a year on buying food from wealthier countries.

Continued developments in agriculture, such as better fertiliser, higher-yielding seeds and disease-resistant crops, will help farmers produce a greater quantity and a wider variety of food. They will be able to sell their surplus for vegetables, eggs, milk and meat, boosting the nutritional balance of their diets.

Agricultural tools, better roads to facilitate local trade and delivery, and information will all increase productivity by 50%.

BANKING: digital banking will diminish poverty

Being poor doesn’t just mean having less money. Assets could be held in livestock, for example, which is less secure than cash and can’t be broken up to spend in small pieces, while emergency moneylenders can charge unaffordable interest rates.

But digital banking could change all this. People are already using mobile phones as debit cards, to store and transfer money digitally. By 2030, the Gates Foundation predicts, this practice will have spread to two billion people who do not currently have a bank account.

There are still hurdles: although about 70% of adults in developing countries have mobile phones, access can be limited for women, and restrictive financial regulations in many countries need to be relaxed.

But this is one area in particular where innovation is trickling up rather than down – with emerging nations pushing innovation because of a demand for digital banking among poorer communities, which will in turn reach wealthier countries.

EDUCATION: mobile software will revolutionise learning and narrow the gender gap

Online classes will soon be available to people around the world, not just in developed nations. The increasing penetration of connected mobile devices in emerging markets will allow people in poor countries access to more educational resources than ever before, as well as information about career requirements and teacher support networks.

This is closely tied with gender equality, because “a powerful ripple effect” is created when girls are not given equal access to education: they earn less money, their daughters are less likely to go to school, and so on. But online education could tackle this discrimination head on.

“Education is a great leveller,” the letter said. “But if the factors that hold girls back are not addressed, and if access to education isn’t equal, then education will become another cause of inequity, rather than a cure for it.”

– The Telegraph

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