Gates Foundation seeks to merge science and delivery of global health | 

Bill Gates fields a question at a Seattle meeting focused on developing new products to fight disease. He and Melinda Gates spoke to more than 500 participants at the Global Health Product Development forum, moderated by Betsy McKay of the Wall Street Journal.
Bill Gates fields a question at a Seattle meeting focused on developing new products to fight disease. He and Melinda Gates spoke to more than 500 participants at the Global Health Product Development forum, moderated by Betsy McKay of the Wall Street Journal.

Everyone knows that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation likes technology, inventing new things and helping others find innovative ways to fight diseases of poverty and other scourges that afflict those living in the poorest parts of the world.

The world’s biggest philanthropy has reorganized to devote its global health program, run by former Novartis executive Trevor Mundel, almost entirely to supporting research aimed at finding new drugs or vaccines. The incoming CEO, Susan Desmond-Hellman, is a biotech leader and was head of product development at Genentech.

So it’s no wonder that some complain the Gates Foundation often sounds sometimes like just another drug company, is too focused on the ‘techno-fix,’ the silver bullet or some other kind of magical (Bill likes that word, ‘magical’) targeted intervention.

But that perspective may be missing a more fundamental transformation – the new, intentionally holistic Gates Foundation.

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Can fair trade clothing prevent the next factory tragedy? | 

Bangladeshi garment workers protest demanding a minimum monthly salary of ~$103 and compensation for the victims and injured of the Rana Plaza building that collapsed.
Bangladeshi garment workers protest demanding a minimum monthly salary of ~$103 and compensation for the victims and injured of the Rana Plaza building that collapsed.
AP Photo/A.M. Ahad

The collapse of a garment factory in Bangladesh killed 1,100 a year ago today. The tragedy has served as a rallying cry for better labor conditions in Bangladesh and the rest of the world.

“I was really shocked by it initially,” said Devin Chesney, an employee with World Food Programme USA. “It was widely covered by media, but then disappeared quickly.”

In the aftermath, Chesney said he thought that the fault for the accident was on the companies that use the factories and the government of Bangladesh. A friend challenged his ideas, forcing him to explain why his purchase decisions were not connected to the accident. The Socratic mode of inquiry worked. Chesney soon realized that he was wrong and has a role to play as a consumer.

“There is a chain of causation that goes all the way back to the people that make it. I play a part in that at least,” he said.

That led him to take action. Chesney developed an idea to start a certification for fair trade clothing. Much like the branding that is adorned on coffee and other foods, he wants people to be able to walk into a nearby Walmart and see which clothes were made by companies who provide safe working conditions and a fare wage.

The idea to certify clothing fair trade is not new. The Fair Trade Foundation did a pilot program to determine whether it was feasible to certify clothing. The two-year effort generated little money, proving that such an endeavor would be challenging. Chesney says he took the lessons from the pilot study in setting up FairWear.

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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. Continue reading

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

Booze
Fotopedia

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).

AlcoholGBDAlcoholGBD2

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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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