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Ten Cents
Alex Steffen, 10 Dec 03

The Millennium Development Goals are the closest thing we have to an international consensus on how to meet the basic needs of everyone on the planet.

It's an imposing to-do list: eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, provide universal education, ensure sustainability, etc. But it all hinges on one thing - keeping people healthy. At least, that's what Jeffrey Sachs says (PDF):

"One cannot think about poverty reduction without thinking about improvements in health. ... People who are sick and dying do not get out of poverty. Children orphaned by AIDS or other killers do not have much prospect of getting out of poverty in the world that we are living in. ...You need a strategy; the strategy must be for universal access to essential health services. People need to stay alive for societies to have a chance to achieve development."

But - and here's the kicker - providing universal essential health care is entirely within our means:

"[W]e found that $25 billion was needed to deliver basic life-saving health services for the low income countries. If you do the arithmetic, it is $25 billion out of $25 trillion. That’s one-thousandth of the rich world’s GNP! Just 10 cents out of every $100 of rich countries’ GNP."

That's right, for ten cents off every Benjamin Franklin we spend in the wealthy world, we could be starting to turn this thing around. And Sachs is talking about what's possible right now, given current technologies and political restraints, not what is becoming possible with changing priorities, non-profit pharmaceutical companies and collaborative efforts. Sometimes what's most galling isn't what we can't do, but what we could.

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I can't help feeling that at some point us in the west are going to pay for what we're not doing now.

It costs $200 to save one child's life:

It isn't even a matter of mass coordination. It's just a whole lot of people deciding they'd rather have a new TV, dinner at a restaurant, a better car, than save a life. There's an element of willful ignorance to it all: don't want to know, so i don't have to care.

This information needs to be screamed from the hilltops.

Posted by: Paul Harrison on 10 Dec 03

There is also of course the nasty problem of how about if Bob knows that if he saves that kid on the train that kid is going to have an average of about six more kids in a few years, which will all probably hang around train yards as well, for reasons that rhyme with civil wars and running out of natural resources. Anybody remember "WE ARE THE WORLD"? Foreign aid and interference is COMPLEX! A lot of times it ends up like somalia where goat herders were herded into food drop zones, had their relatively autonomous ways of life destroyed (via state killing their goats) and drafted into the military. A lot of times it ends up like ethiopia where the population keeps growing through massive droughts and civil war, even though it long ago went past any notion of a sustainable size. And a lot of times it ends up like most of south america, where the interference of the United States causes widespread economic destruction that it is never called to reparations for. The third world has serious problems and deserves more thought than kneejerking "give them money, it will save their lives." Their lives will need more saving than that. First step: take your boot off their neck.

Posted by: Ben on 10 Dec 03

Point taken, but before that happens we have to get the same boot off our own neck.

Posted by: Dr. Maturin on 11 Dec 03

Hah. Just keep believing that if it makes you feel comfortable. How much foreign aid does your country give? For Australia it's about 0.25% of GDP, which is pretty typical. Think that's made up for by personal donations? ... nope.

You think the situation is COMPLEX. Let me put it in simple terms: children dying of diarrhea is bad. Children. Dying. Bad. See, not so hard.

So aid in the past had its problems. At least it was a start, and it's more than we're doing now. Yeah, a more nuanced approach would be good. But basically more money equals less terrible painful deaths.

There's no lack of good projects today if you don't like unicef or whatever. The whole microcredit thing is pretty neat, and that Light Up The World group that was posted on this site a while back, and rather a lot more besides.

Overpopulation? The solution to that one is EASY and SIMPLE. Education is the most effective contraceptive ever invented. Lets go set up some schools.

And the boot? Yeah, oopsie, be a good idea to stop kicking them in the ribs all the time too. Slack off on the whole pharmaceutical patents thing. Stop our subsidies to farmers. But that's big stuff that's going to take lots of political pressure, in the meantime, $200 still saves a life.

Posted by: Paul Harrison on 12 Dec 03



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