For some reason, the critical role of education as a means to ‘sustainably’ reduce poverty and increase opportunity worldwide seldom gets the same attention as fighting diseases of poverty, technological innovation or efforts aimed at fostering healthier markets.
Maybe that explains the depressing – mostly ignored – findings in a report issued this week by UNESCO, the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Or maybe it’s because the report was so damn long and buried all the fun graphics. Seriously, a 300-page report in this day and age (with more than 100 pages of footnotes and appendices)?
So here’s an illustration from page 87 that shows, perhaps surprisingly, that India and China lead the world in illiteracy:
This is a sequel, or maybe prequel, to yesterday’s post The man who failed to end global poverty. Humanosphere interviews the renowned and controversial economist Jeffrey Sachs, on his history of big ideas and why they seem to irritate so many people.
Editors note: By ‘fantastic,’ we intend the original meaning. The idea of ending extreme poverty is today no longer considered a fantasy – in part due to the big ideas of a controversial economist.
It is probably not an exaggeration to say that Columbia University economist Jeff Sachs has done as much as anyone over the past few decades to draw public, and policy maker, attention to the plight of those who live in extreme poverty around the world. Sachs literally wrote the book on how to end poverty. As a numbers guy, he helped transform the idea of ‘ending poverty’ from a dreamy notion sung by Bono and Geldof into a real strategic vision. It is also not a stretch to say that Sachs has become a target of fierce criticism. Some of his critics simply seem to dislike foreign aid; others say his approach is all wrong. What’s clear to Humanosphere is that Sachs has long been a proponent of foreign aid, of the rich world’s moral obligation (and potential benefits) to helping the global poor and of the power of specific interventions for reducing poverty and suffering. Humanosphere thinks ideas matter and wanted to explore the history of this besieged economist’s big ideas:
Q: Over the past 15 years or so, we’ve seen major reductions in poverty worldwide, in rates of some diseases like AIDS and malaria. Back in 2000, you chaired a study called the Commission on Macroeconomics and Health that made the case for the creation of a huge Global Health Fund (which became the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria). A Lancet article from 2002 quoted a number of experts dubious this could ever work.
JS: Yes, it was not a very popular idea at the time. The health situation in Africa was especially dreadful and there had not yet been a determination to begin treating people with HIV. Millions were dying without access to treatment. Malaria was also running rampant. There was handwringing but no large-scale action or strategy … There was maybe $100 million for AIDS worldwide, a shocklingly small amount given the scope of the problem. We recommended the international community put something like $5 billion per year to address this. The purpose of the commission was to show that investing in health was very effective and should be scaled up significantly. Many responded to this proposal as totally infeasible, in part because of how weak the health systems were throughout much of Africa. The head of USAID at the time even said the poorest Africans couldn’t work with complex AIDS drugs because they can’t tell time (and properly space out drugs). Critics said the money would be wasted, basically be about as effective as running into a buzz saw. Continue reading
- Millennium Villages
Eds note: Updated with rebuttal and comments from representatives of the MVP.
The Millennium Villages Project, an ambitious project launched across Africa by economist Jeffrey Sachs, is once again drawing attention.
A somewhat critical book, The Idealist, by Vanity Fair editor Nina Munk describes Columbia University Professor Sachs’ sometimes brash style in convincing even his strongest opponents to follow his poverty alleviation prescriptions.
The MVP, as the project is known, was launched by Sachs nearly a decade ago to demonstrate that relatively inexpensive targeted interventions can achieve major benefits against disease and poverty. Since then, the project has been repeatedly criticized for lacking adequate measures and data to back up its claims of progress.
The book’s profile of Sachs is augmented by two new reports on the MVP. One explores media attention to the MVP in Africa. Another says that the mistakes made by the MVP provide lessons for future projects and illustrate the importance of transparency in development projects. Continue reading
Guest post by Katie Leach-Kemon, a policy translation specialist from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.
Progress toward the current Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and establishing new goals after 2015 are a hot topic of discussion this week at the UN General Assembly in New York City.
In today’s post, we’ll use Global Burden of Disease Study 2010 (GBD 2010) data to explore how much progress countries have made in three key health MDGs, 4, 5 and 6, the first two focused on reducing child mortality and maternal mortality while the latter is on halting the spread of diseases such as HIV/AIDS and malaria.
MDG 6 is arguably the highest-profile goal and one that’s seen tremendous progress – halting or reversing the spread of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. By 2010, antiretroviral therapy financed by country governments and donors had succeeded in reversing the rise in HIV/AIDS deaths at the global level.
Below is a figure showing donor funding (also known at IHME as development assistance for health, or DAH) for HIV/AIDs from IHME’s report Financing Global Health 2012: The End of the Golden Age?
Bill Gates was not thrilled about the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) when they were launched in 2005. The goals were meant to set tangible targets for the world and individual countries to achieve by 2015. Though he eventually came around to love them. Bill and Melinda now sing their praises far and wide.
“It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when it happened, but over time Melinda and I moved from cautious optimists to full-throated fans. I think the MDGs are the best idea for focusing the world on fighting global poverty that I’ve ever seen,” blogs Gates.
The Gates’ love for the MDGs boils down to three reasons:
- There are concrete measurable goals.
- The MDGs dominated the global agenda.
- They prove that ending poverty is not as complex as some say it is.
He says that the impact of the MDGs may be hard to determine outright, but are responsible for some of the biggest gains against poverty.
The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have been a sort of North Star for the development universe since 2000. Governments, Donors and aid wonks all talk about advances in terms of how close it brings a nation closer to achieving a given goal. The goals expire in 2015 and discussions are already underway for what should come next.
One question seems to have been forgotten: did the MDGs actually work?
Charles Kenny and Andy Sumner dug in a bit in a working paper for the Center for Global Development back in 2011. The MDGs did a good job in increasing aid spending and led to improved development policies. However whether or not the goals helped to speed up progress in target areas is hard to determine.
The international community is trying to figure out what it — the world — wants to do next to make the world a better place. Social media like Twitter offers a look at what people, at least those who use Twitter, want.
The United Nations’ very cool project Global Pulse has analyzed keywords and ‘sentiments’ used by people who are talking on Twitter about what to to do after 2015 when we reach the finish line for the Millennium Development Goals, eight goals staked out in 2000 to set global priorities aimed at reducing poverty and improving health.
In general, Twitter says most folks want better local schools, a better internet connection and jobs. But go to the site and run the data for a sense of how the priorities differ between countries. Kenya’s top priority (again, according to Twitter alone) is better roads. Bangladesh’s top priority is freedom from discrimination and political freedom.
The international community is in fevered talks aimed at trying to decide what to do to reduce poverty, inequity and injustice after 2015 – when we reach the finish line for the first set of such targeted goals known as the Millennium Development Goals.
Here, from World of Data is a visual, interactive description of the lingo:
- World of Data
It seems a bit odd that the word poverty is so small while inequity and injustice aren’t even included. Why is the word ‘guardian’ in there, I wonder? A reference to the news organization? Keep in mind, this is just a snapshot of one moment on social media (Google, Twitter) prompted by one discussion at Global Pulse.