Bill Gates: "The world really is getting better every day!"

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Bill Gates: "The world really is getting better every day!"
Bill Gates: "The world really is getting better every day!"
19 September, 10:08Photo: Соцсети
The famous businessman and philanthropist spoke about the significant improvements that have taken place on the planet over the past 30 years.

A few days ago, the American edition of The Atlantic published an article by columnist Derek Thomson, in which he cites his conversation with one of the richest people in the world, Bill Gates, who is also known for his charitable projects around the world. Novye Izvestia publishes the most interesting fragments of this material translated by Olga Nechaeva:

If you look at the world, it seems that everything is only getting worse. Global warming cannot be stopped. Political polarization is tearing the planet apart. Women's rights are being violated in Afghanistan and, according to American liberals, in the United States. Europe's energy costs are skyrocketing, China is heading into recession, Ukraine is embroiled in an existential war, and many African countries face a growing food crisis.

The list of sorrows goes on and on. So where does optimism come from? The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has just released a report called Goalkeepers about global progress. Seven years ago, 200 world leaders agreed on 17 world development goals, including the elimination of deep poverty and hunger in the world by 2030. The report says that while the world has not achieved "almost any" of the ambitious goals, in almost every category the planet is doing better than it did 30 years ago.

“In 2015, when we set these goals, we weren't expecting a pandemic or events in Ukraine,” Bill Gates told me in an interview about the report last week. “And yet, thanks to the progress made before the pandemic and innovations like mRNA, I remain optimistic when I think about a 10-20 year time frame”.

Since 1990, poverty and hunger have declined significantly and life expectancy has increased on every continent. According to the report, the share of smokers in the world has decreased by about 20%; children are about 30% less likely to be malnourished or stunted; the incidence of tuberculosis fell by about one third; maternal mortality with live births decreased by 40%; the prevalence of neglected tropical diseases such as dengue and leprosy has fallen by about 70%; and the percentage of the world's population with access to toilets and clean water has increased by 100%. The quality of this data collection varies by category and country. But in general, it cannot be said that the progress of mankind is a publicity stunt of pathological optimists. Progress is a fact.

The report also contains deeper lessons about how sustained attention to the poor can make a big difference in the world. Consider the decline in AIDS deaths, which is one of the great underestimated victories of the 21st century. Decades ago, public health experts predicted that about 5 million people would die from AIDS in 2020. In 2003, President George W. Bush announced a new policy called PEPFAR to combat the worldwide HIV epidemic. At the same time, other countries and world health organizations have distributed millions of antiretroviral drugs across Africa, where the number of cases has grown the fastest. As a result, the number of AIDS deaths worldwide has been declining every year since 2005 and will be around 500,000 in 2020, according to the Gates report. This means that nine out of 10 predicted deaths have been averted thanks to the hard work and ingenuity of governments and public health advocates.

Yet the cost of these life-saving programs is only a fraction of the wealthy country's GDP. From a utilitarian point of view, they represent one of the most profitable investments on Earth. “It would be easy in the face of all our problems, like inflation in rich countries, to turn our backs on Africa,” Gates told me. this money has a huge impact. In many cases, for $1,000, we can save a human life.”

Another striking success in global health is the decline in mortality among children under 5 years of age. In 1990, more than 8% of children died before the age of five. But in 2021, that figure dropped to 3.6 percent. When I spoke to Gates, I called this the best news on the planet. He didn't correct me.

“The biggest reason for this decline is that we have vaccinated nearly every child in the world” against diseases like measles, Gates told me. Organizations like Gavi, which is partly funded by the Gates Foundation, help buy and distribute vaccines, which in turn lowers prices and increases access to vaccines. WHO estimates that measles vaccination has prevented more than 20 million deaths in Africa since 2000, mostly in children.

Finally, for hundreds of years, economists and philosophers feared that overpopulation would lead to depletion of the world's resources and mass starvation. But that did not happen.

Thanks to scientific advances such as the Green Revolution, the number of famine victims in the 2010s was lower than in any other record decade. In the 1870s - one of the most famous decades in the history of scientific and technological development - 142 people died of hunger per 100,000 people in the world.

Today, the death rate from starvation is about 99% lower than in the late 1800s, despite the fact that the world's population has increased by about five times. (It is difficult to imagine a more convincing statistical proof of material progress.)

Gates said he was still not satisfied with how we feel about world hunger. Agricultural productivity has allowed countries like Ukraine and the US to grow enough wheat to feed the world. Today, Africa imports more than 70 percent of its wheat, and annual food aid sent to poor and warring countries has grown to $57 billion a year. But Gates said he wants the world to spend more money on agricultural research (currently worth $9 billion worldwide) so that African farmers can expand their own production without relying on global trade and generosity.

Fourteen years ago, the foundation began supporting African crop researchers who were worried that rising global temperatures would destroy their crops. Maize makes up 30% of the total diet consumed in sub-Saharan Africa, but it does not ripen if temperatures consistently exceed 30 degrees, as is expected in the next few decades.

An African research team has used crop breeding to create a corn hybrid that is more tolerant of hot weather. But hybridization of magic seeds is not enough. "First, you have to go through the bureaucracies of countries to get the seeds approved," Gates said.

“And then - all the way must go all the way to every farmer who needs to be trained and helped to get a loan to buy fertilizers. There is a long way to go before the introduction of new hybrids.”

Headlines about scientific breakthroughs in malaria vaccines, cancer treatments, or breakthroughs in nuclear power are always good news. These breakthroughs are great news. But the material conditions throughout the world will not change at the moment of laboratory inventions. Progress requires hard and complex work to implement the technologies we have invented.

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