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Jeff Sachs on those MDG things

The 8 Millennium Development Goals

I talked the other day with Jeff Sachs — director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute, author and a noted (frequently controversial) economist — by telephone, along with a few other journalists.

We talked about the MDGs, or Millennium Development Goals.

Those icons up there and over to the left represent the 8 MDGs — food, education, women, a decapitated teddy bear, a woman again but this time with a heart in her stomach, drugs, a four-leaf clover and a double Siamese Twin.

Okay, just kidding. That’s not what the MDGs are all about.

In fact, these international development targets represent a serious and somewhat successful attempt by the international community, launched in 2000, to reduce poverty and improve the welfare of the world’s poorest people.

There has been progress on many fronts – with significant reductions in extreme poverty and maternal mortality, the battle against AIDS — but not on others. There’s a lot left to be done if we are to reach the goals the international community set for itself a decade ago.

Some say the goals were too ambitious; others say they were not ambitious enough.

Sachs wrote a summary of what the MDGs have accomplished — and have yet to accomplish — in today’s New York Times.

Next week, there will be big meeting at the UN about the MDGs and everyone in the development community is all atwitter (see #MDG on Twitter, for example). Almost everyone who is anyone in global health or development will have, or already has had, something to say.

Unfortunately, not many outside of the development community appear to be even slightly atwitter or aware of the MDGs. Sachs attributed this to lack of American political leadership

“These goals are not well-known in the United States,” said Sachs, yet they largely represent the world’s game plan for making the world a better place.

Lack of American awareness of the MDGs, Sachs says, is shameful, dangerous to global stability and a symptom of the self-centered, isolationist nature of our political dialogue.

“We don’t hear about the Millennium Development Goals from President Obama just as we didn’t hear about them from President Bush,” Sachs said.

“Americans are generous people,” Sachs said. “Yet most aren’t aware that the U.S. ranks the lowest of all developed nations in the world in foreign assistance, in terms of per capita spending.”

So we’ll see what happens with our political leadership, with the media coverage of this event and the public response. Maybe the MDGs will finally become as familiar to people as, say, an ATM or RPG.


About Author

Tom Paulson

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 tom[at] or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.