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Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation CEO: Women could help end poverty

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maternal and child health DRC
A
family eats ‘Fou Fou’ Kasava and fish in the West Lake Edward
village of Lunyesenge in the Democratic Republic of the
Congo.

Brent Stirton/Getty Images for
WWF-Canon


  • The Gates Foundation released its second annual

    Goalkeepers Report
    today, a project that’s meant to keep
    yearly tabs on the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals from the
    United Nations.
  • In
    the report
    , Bill Gates and his team applaud the fact that
    hundreds of millions of people have risen out of extreme
    poverty in the past couple of decades, but warn the progress
    may not continue. 
  • Keeping more women in school, and letting them decide
    when they want to have kids would both help a lot.

 

There’s a crude but simple way to measure extreme poverty around
the world. Look at how many people are living on less than $1.90
a day. The higher the number, the worse-off we are.

The good news is that the number of people getting by on that
much has been steadily falling for decades, with over a
billion people
surging over the mark since 1990, according to
the World Bank.

China’s on track to nearly eliminate this income bracket by 2030.
So is India. 

Now, it’s time for sub-Saharan Africa to follow suit, a new
report
 from the Gates Foundation argues.

The Goalkeepers report is an annual check-up that’s meant to
keep tabs on the United Nation’s sustainable development goals,
which aim to end poverty, hunger, and generally improve people’s
lives around the world by 2030. 

In this year’s
Goalkeepers report
, the normally optimistic Gates Foundation
says the wave of poverty-busting prosperity that rushed over
China in the 1990s and then India in the 2000s, lifting more than
750 million people in those countries above the $1.90-a-day mark,
is not yet guaranteed on the African continent.

“The big message is that progress is possible, but it’s not
inevitable,” Gates Foundation CEO Sue Desmond-Hellmann told
Business Insider. “We really need to have a third
wave, and it needs to happen in sub-Saharan Africa.” 

[Read More: The
CEO of The Gates Foundation says we’re approaching a dangerous
tipping point in global poverty. We still have time to reverse
it
.]


china india end extreme poverty chartBusiness Insider

Both China and India have complicated economic
success stories that are nowhere near complete.

But lower fertility rates are arguably linked to better incomes
in both countries: China’s birth rate tumbled from 5.7 per woman
in 1960 to 1.6 in 2016, while India’s went from 5.9 to 2.3,
according to World Bank
data
. At the same time, those two countries became global
economic powerhouses. The gains meant more people could feed and
send their kids to school, ensuring the betterment of coming
generations.  

“It’s fantastic to see the kinds of gains in health and education
we’ve seen,” Desmond-Hellmann said. “But the worry, the
peril, is that more babies are being born in the places
where it’s hardest to live a healthy, productive life.”

In the years to come, many of the poorest babies (and 86% of the
world’s extreme poor) are going to be born in a cluster of
sub-Saharan African countries, particularly in two specific
nations: The Democratic Republic of the Congo and Nigeria. Those
two countries alone could account for nearly half of the world’s
poorest people by 2050, according to Gates Foundation estimates.
Both of their birth rates have barely budged since 1960.

Much of the poverty there will be driven by rapid population
growth, more than doubling the number of people in both
countries. The staggering increase could be altered, though, if
women and girls get to better choose how many children they have
from the get-go.

Women in Africa are currently having an average of about .7 more
children than what they’d ideally want. If they got to decide how
many kids they birthed, having one or two less, the projected
rapid population growth could decrease 30% by 2100, according to
the foundation. That would make everyone healthier, smarter, and
richer too.

“You want those young people to have healthy, productive
lives,” Desmond-Hellmann said. “Nutrition, and early childhood
nutrition, are extremely important.”


malnourished child kenya
A
malnourished refugee mother and child in a ward of the Medecins
Sans Frontieres Hospital in the Dagahaley refugee camp on July
22, 2011 in Dadaab, Kenya.

Oli
Scarff/Getty Images


“We think investments in voluntary, modern
contraception for women who want to decide when she has her
children and to space her children, that’s a really
important investment that we could make as a
foundation,” Desmond-Hellmann said. 

The $50 billion-plus Gates Foundation has spent more than $15
billion on projects in Africa to date, but much of the push has
been for more vaccines,
as well as in
HIV
 and
malaria
prevention and treatment. While the foundation is
still researching new treatments for HIV and
providing vaccinations in 73 countries around the
world,
 some of the foundation’s health focus is shifting
to baby-making.

Desmond-Hellmann says the Gates Foundation will now invest more
in family planning and contraception.

It’s arguably filling a needed void at a time when the US is
dialing down its own family planning foreign aid. Just days after
President Trump took office in January 2016, the administration
reintroduced the decades-old Mexico
City Policy,
 which essentially zeros out American
dollars to any NGOs that
might even mention the word abortion
when they’re counseling
women.

Practically, it means that women living in remote, impoverished
areas have less access to all kinds of contraceptive care and
family planning advice. In Madagascar, even though abortion is
illegal, the policy is still preventing many low-income women
from accessing free contraception like implants and IUD devices,
as
NPR reported last year
.

Without access to contraception, it’s harder for young girls to
stay in school, or help plant crops at home. More access to
contraception “would enable more girls and women to stay in
school longer, have children later, they could earn
more as adults, and they could invest more in their
children,” as Desmond-Hellmann put it.

But only if they have a choice.

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