The “Greatest Promise Ever Made” That Most Americans Ignore

The 8 Millennium Development Goals

A recent editorial in the online edition of Britain’s Guardian newspaper called them the “Greatest Promise Ever Made.”

You could also call it the promise hardly anyone knows about.

The Millennium Development Goals, otherwise known as the MDGs, are eight anti-poverty goals set by the world community in 2000.

Most Americans have no idea what they are and may still pay little attention to all the celebrities and dignitaries that will gather starting today in New York City at the United Nations.

There’s been a lot of media attention given to the fact that many countries are not improving fast enough, which may partially explain American indifference or ignorance of the MDGs.

That’s unfortunate, since real progress is being made and failure to sustain — or expand upon, as needed — these efforts to reduce global poverty and improve health will affect everyone in a globalized world. Melinda Gates and others will today highlight some of the progress being made on a TEDxChange webcast.

Here’s a brief primer on what they are and a glass-half-full view of where we are in trying to make the world a better place. We have a ways to go, but it’s important to recognize that progress is possible.

MDG 1 — End extreme poverty and hunger. (Ghana, for example, is now on track to halve its poverty rates and eliminate hunger by 2015. Other sub-Saharan countries have also made substantial gains in the past decade.)

MDG 2 — Assure at least a primary education for all children. (Ethiopia has increased the number of children getting primary education to more than 15 million, a 500 percent increase over the past decade.)

MDG 3 — Promote gender equality and empower women. (This one is harder to measure but in some countries, such as Rwanda and Kuwait, the number of women in political offices has increased and many countries have passed new laws against gender discrimination).

MDG 4 — Reduce childhood mortality. (A massive push to expand childhood vaccination worldwide has put a serious dent in childhood mortality, reducing it from 12 million to 8 million, with exceptional progress in countries like Bangladesh and Vietnam.)

MDG 5 — Reduce maternal mortality. (New studies have shown that the rate of maternal deaths worldwide has declined from half a million to about 350,000 annually. Still far too many, but progress is being made.)

MDG 6 — Reverse the spread of HIV, malaria. (The Global Fund for AIDS, TB and Malaria, along with U.S.-run programs like PEPFAR, have done much to reduce the death tolls of these big killers. Much remains to be done and funding cuts threaten the progress made.)

MDG 7 — Integrate principles of environmental sustainability into development. (This is another hard one to measure, but it is sort of an obvious need. Loss of biodiversity and arable land threatens the basic livelihoods of most poor families, subsistence farmers.)

MDG 8 — Develop a global partnership for development. (Okay, this one is really vague. That’s likely because it is the most controversial, having to do with changing trade policies, dealing with country debt and generally ending commercial exploitation of poor countries.)


About Author

Editor Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at, follow him on Twitter @tompaulson and/or send a comment below.