Challenging the claim that saving kids lives reduces population growth | 

A leading aid and development expert is challenging a popular claim made by Bill and Melinda Gates, health statistics wizard Hans Rosling and others in the humanitarian community often cited to counter the concern that saving kids lives in poor countries will exacerbate global population growth.

It is sometimes described as the ‘virtuous cycle’ because it shows how preventing child deaths actually reduces birth rates! Here’s Rosling making the case in his always entertaining style:

The gist here is that as you reduce childhood mortality rates in poor communities, families have less kids. Birth rates go down and, over time, the economic well-being of these communities rises along with other health indicators. Put another way, when poor families see fewer of their kids dying young, they stop having 10 kids if they only need five to work the farm and provide for the family.

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Boston Marathon showcases resilience of humanity | 

Edward Lychik, of Tacoma, Wash., runs past cheering Wellesley College students during the 118th Boston Marathon.
Edward Lychik, of Tacoma, Wash., runs past cheering Wellesley College students during the 118th Boston Marathon.
AP Photo/Mary Schwalm

Boston, MA - For the past week, the city of Boston, and much of the US, remembered the attacks on the 2013 Boston Marathon and the ensuing manhunt for the two brothers who carried out the attacks. The week began with the anniversary of the attacks on  April 15. Local and national leaders spoke a memorial, events were held in Copley Square (site of the attacks) and the 2014 marathon was run yesterday.

In a fitting finish to the men’s race, Kenyan-born and American-raised Meb Keflezighi became the first American male to win the race since 1983.

“As an athlete, you have dreams and today is where the dream and reality meet. I was just crying at the end,” said Keflezghi in an interview after the race. “This is probably the most meaningful victory for an American, just because of what happened. It’s Patriots Day.”

He was propelled forward by the the four people killed by the Tsarnaev brothers. Their names Martin, Sean, Krystle and Lingzi, were written in each corner of his bib. Roughly a million people lined the raceway for the estimated 36,000 professional, amateur and charity runners that competed. Increased security did not prevent a more exuberant crowd from supporting all of the runners.

It was a juxtaposition to a year ago. The greater Boston area was shut down a few days after the attacks, when Dzokhar Tsarnaev was hiding from police in Watertown. Driving out of the city in the middle of that day felt much like a post-apocalyptic movie. The red lights needlessly delayed my car as there were no others on the road through Kenmore Square, near famed Fenway Park.

A year later, Kenmore was filled with shouting people and exhausted runners trying to make the final push towards the finish line in Copley Square, less than a mile away. For Keflezghi, the mantra that came out of the tragedy turned in his mind as he covered the 26.2 miles between Hopkinton and Boston in just over 2 hours.

“Boston Strong, Boston Strong, Meb Strong, Meb Strong.”

Keflezghi was a fitting winner because of his background. At the age of twelve, he and his family fled for the US from Eritrea, the small east African nation, amid its war with Ethiopia. They settled in San Diego. From there, his running career took him to UCLA on scholarship, became a US citizen and competed in the three Olympic games. He became the first American in 27 years to win the New York Marathon, in 2009.

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Parents say more than 200 girls missing in northern Nigeria | 

Security walk past burned   government secondary school Chibok, were gunmen abducted more than 200 students in Chibok, Nigeria.
Security walk past burned government secondary school Chibok, were gunmen abducted more than 200 students in Chibok, Nigeria.
AP Photo/ Haruna Umar

The search for the school girls abducted in northern Nigeria continues a week after they were taken. However, there is a significant discrepancy over how many girls are missing.

Islamist militants are believed to have kidnapped 129 school girls from Chibok school in northern Nigeria. The parents of the missing girl say the government numbers do not account for everyone missing. They are searching in a remote forest for the 234 girls that they say are still missing.

It means more than twice as many girls were abducted than the government estimates. Fifty-two of the girls are said to have returned home so far. Families have been told that Boko Haram members are holding the girls in the Sambisa forest, but have been warned of the danger of trying to get them.

“They said they saw a lot of girls that same Tuesday morning fetching water from a stream and leaving … They told us they were certain that girls are still close by, but they advised strongly not to go into that direction because we weren’t armed,” said Folly Teika, the mother of two abducted girls, to Reuters.

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Surprise surprise, young people don’t want to stay on farms | 

A farmer in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
A farmer in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Increasingly fewer young people in developing countries are aspiring to lives as farmers. The trend is not new, nor is it a problem faced only by poorer nations. What we now have is a better sense as to why it is happening.

Jennifer Leavy and Naomi Hossain, of the Institute for Development Study, conducted interviews with nearly 1,500 people in 10 countries in 2012. Unsurprisingly, they found that young people aspire to “formal sector employment and modern urban lifestyles.”

The interviews led to four findings: 1) youth want to be better educated to get good jobs; 2) farming is mentally and physically challenging; 3) youth don’t consider agriculture as a future in part because of a lack of access to inputs and land; 4) changing norms, especially for women, are creating new opportunities to seek education, employment, etc.

Education is one of the key components, but that does not necessarily lead to employment. In many instances, government jobs were found to be the most desirable for their stability. The trouble is that there are only so many and there are countries where bribes are necessary to reach such positions.

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Visualizing the massive toll of an abused drug seldom in the headlines | 


The legalization of marijuana in Washington and Colorado has been big news around the country and the world.

These laws have spawned concerns that they could encourage more youths to use marijuana and lead to increased frequency of impaired driving. On the other hand, civil rights activists have endorsed marijuana legalization, noting that the law-enforcement approach has largely failed to make a dent in the drug abuse problem and that minorities are imprisoned more often than whites as a result of the prohibition of marijuana.

What about the impact of a drug that causes much greater health loss?

According to the Global Burden of Disease Study, alcohol was the fifth-highest risk factor for early death and disability worldwide in 2010. The screen grab below shows how alcohol ranked higher than high body mass index (an indicator of overweight and obesity), childhood underweight, and sedentary lifestyles (physical inactivity).


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The aid debate continues in the media and on blogs | 

The debate over aid does not want to go away, but it is moving away from general statements about whether it works or not. Regardless of who is right and what we believe, it is promising to see the conversation taking a far more constructive tone. However, the present discussions are not likely to convert people to the pro- or anti-aid camps.

The latest round of disagreement follows on the heels of NYU economist and aid skeptic Bill Easterly’s new book. In it, he argues that technocratic experts have undermined the rights of people around the world. Aid, at times, has been a tool to provide support for leaders that restrict things people can say and do in their countries. In the long term, that undermines advances within a country or region.

Easterly has been making the media rounds to debate whether foreign aid is on the wrong side of human rights. On Wednesday, Easterly joined CARE USA’s CEO Helene Gayle to debate foreign aid on Fareed Zakaria’s television show. Zakaria plays a moderator of sorts who seems a bit of an aid supporter.

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Eight facts about health workers and the brain drain | 

Migration is a much debated subject around the world. We are investigating the impacts that migration on countries, migrants, business and more. Today we hear from Martin Drewry, Director of Health Poverty Action on the issue of brain drain. Read more of the series Migration Matters.

Doctor Kouakoussui gives advice to a patient at PMI hospital. Côte d'Ivoire.
Doctor Kouakoussui gives advice to a patient at PMI hospital. Côte d’Ivoire.
Ami Vitale / World Bank

Migration: a simple concept with incredibly complex ramifications. Is there any other topic that gets people as riled up? Certainly not many.

Recent debates have highlighted some of the sensitivities.  But with the health worker crisis growing, we have a duty to have an honest and nuanced debate, no matter how tricky this may be.

For my part, as director of an international development organisation working on health in 13 countries (in Africa, Asia and Latin America), I can offer information on the connection between migration and health – or, to be more specific, migration and health workers. Here are eight ‘useful things to know,’ some obvious and some less so:

  1. Low income countries are massively short of health workers.

Can you imagine arriving at a hospital with your sick child, only to find no staff there?  Sure, busy and over-worked staff feels (sadly) familiar enough to lots of us, but not no staff. Yet in low-income countries many people genuinely face this. Across the world, extremely poor countries have a shortage of health workers that goes way beyond words like ‘severe’.  It is costing a catastrophic number of lives, and fuelling widespread disease.

A health system can’t work adequately without sufficient health workers. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) 83 countries have less than 23 doctors, nurses and midwives per 10,000 people. They are the world’s poorest countries, and this shortage is described by the WHO as ‘one of the most critical constraints to the achievement of health and development goals‘.

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3.7 million in South Sudan face severe hunger crisis | 

Woman sits with food aid, in the north of South Sudan.
Woman sits with food aid, in the north of South Sudan.

Hunger looms over South Sudan. World leaders have spent the past few weeks trying to raise the alarm to garner enough public attention and funding to prevent a hunger crisis.

Some 7 million people are at risk of food insecurity. The UN launched a $230 million appeal in early April to respond to the problem. Then there are the 3.7 million people, nearly one out of every three people in South Sudan, that are at severe risk of hunger.

Fighting in South Sudan since December is responsible for displacing more than 1 million people from their homes. The upcoming rainy season is a vital time for food security because it is when crops are usually planted. It is also the period when food stocks from the previous harvest season begin to run out.

The ongoing fighting and instability has disrupted the country, meaning that some will miss the planting season due to a lack of resources or other factors. A missed or poor planting season would put people already struggling at greater risk, especially young children.

UNICEF warned that as many as 50,000 children could die if the international response in South Sudan does not gain the necessary support. A total of $1.27 billion is necessary to respond to the totality of the crisis in South Sudan, says the UN. Only 36% of the funding has been raised so far. The pleas to act now to prevent hunger hope to revive funding for the response.

The US, EU and UN rushed to sign a call to action for the country in Washington over the weekend. Representatives from the three groups gathered to pledge $80 million for South Sudan. That is in addition to the $100 million that was pledged in the prior week. The money will be used to reach the nearly 5 million people who need assistance because of the ongoing crisis in South Sudan.

“We know that if we work together we can deal with this challenge,” said UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos, at the signing. “But we also know that without improved and significant resourcing now, we face a situation next year where South Sudan is in an even worse situation than it is right now.”

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