Bill and Melinda Gates released the annual Gates Letter this week and it outlines the priorities of their foundation. The letter, addressed to philanthropist Warren Buffet, uses global health data to prove to the world that investing in global health yields big returns, especially for women and children.
The letter offers a slew of positive news, but the best is that the trends of saving lives and reducing poverty are connected and benefit children, their parents and whole nations. Take this statistic: 122 million children’s lives having been saved since 1990 because of better nutrition and education, access to contraceptives, increased gender equity and economic growth.
“When parents are confident their children will survive — and they have access to contraceptives so they can time and space their pregnancies to improve outcomes for mothers and babies — parents can choose how many children to have. The 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 entire countries get out of poverty.”
Key Data Points from the Gates Letter
The number of babies who die on the day they are born. (See the chart on the left.) Solving the challenge of newborn deaths starts with understanding the cause so we can find the tools to prevent them.
The percentage of child deaths that are linked to malnutrition. This is one of the key challenges in reducing child mortality. But the letter says there is a lot we can do to make this happen. Breastfeeding in the first hour and exclusively for six months is the first and simplest intervention and has long-term benefits for nutrition. Experts are figuring out how to breed crops with higher nutrient levels. They are pushing for key nutrients in the food supply, in either salt or cooking oil.
The number of women in the developing world who use modern contraceptives. When a mother chooses how many children to have and when to have them, her children are healthier, they’re better nourished, their mental capacities are higher. Our partner, Family Planning 2020, an organization that the Bill and Melinda Foundation supports, has set a goal of providing 120 million more women access to contraceptives by 2020.
The number of women in self-help groups in India. Social change comes when people start talking to each other—and that’s the magic of women’s groups which can help women get loans, share health practices, and more.
Coverage for the basic package of childhood vaccines is now the highest it’s ever been, at 86%. And the gap between the richest and the poorest countries is the lowest it’s ever been. Vaccines are the biggest reason for the drop in childhood deaths. Our partner, Shot@Life aims to ensure that children around the world have access to life-saving vaccines. Through education, advocacy and fundraising, they strive to decrease vaccine-preventable childhood deaths. This will give every child a shot at a healthy life no matter where they live.
The magic number. The number the foundation strives toward every day at the foundation: Zero cases of polio. Zero cases of malaria. Zero TB, etc. Imagine what the world would look like without these diseases!
The great news is that the letter is optimistic and hopeful, with Bill signing off by making resolutions for even more progress in the future:
Polio will soon be history. In our lifetimes, malaria will end. No one will die from AIDS. Few people will get TB. Children everywhere will be well nourished. And the death of a child in the developing world will be just as rare as the death of a child in the rich world.
Now those are hopes for women and children everywhere that we can get behind.
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Read the Gates letter in full here.
Watch Melinda Gates explain three simple ways the world can save millions of children.