It’s easy to become overrun by bad news, by reckless and callous policy decisions, and by stories of conflict and horror. Successive cuts to Australian foreign aid mean that our aid now makes up only 0.22% of our gross national income (well below the UN foreign aid target of 0.7%), and the proposed United States budget would all-but abolish US foreign aid, and cut funding to a host of organisations which support and protect people in poverty. But it is important to remember that positive change is also happening, and that progress has been and will continue to be made.
This year’s letter from Bill and Melinda Gates is a reminder of this. It is a thoughtful and reflective call to optimism in our attitudes and approach to global health, foreign aid, and philanthropy. Throughout the letter, which is addressed to their friend Warren Buffet, Bill and Melinda reflect on the progress and struggles in global heath.
The Gates Foundation & reduced child mortality
Much of the work of the Gates Foundation focuses on reducing childhood mortality. As Melinda Gates says, saving children’s lives is an end unto itself, but it also has far-reaching benefits.
Bill Gates writes that “when a mother can choose how many children to have, her children are healthier, they’re better nourished, their mental capacities are higher—and parents have more time and money to spend on each child’s health and schooling. That’s how families and countries get out of poverty”.
And this is an area in which we have great cause to be hopeful. Since 1990, childhood mortality has dropped consistently year to year. Compared to no change, this is a total of 122 million children’s lives saved as childhood mortality has reduced by more than half.
In their letter, Bill and Melinda continue to remind us of the importance of optimism in achieving change, emphasising that “optimism isn’t a belief that things will automatically get better; it’s a conviction that we can make things better”.
This optimism isn’t blind to challenges, obstacles, and disappointments, but is focused rather on the long-term successes and gains that have been and continue to be made. Through a wide view of history and the world, we can see that optimism and empathy can and will achieve great and lasting progress. From the education and empowerment of women, to eradicating Polio, and a future without malnutrition.
This insightful and encouraging letter can be found here.
If you want to help further the fight against childhood mortality and for improved global health, you can donate to UNICEF, which is committed to serving families and children worldwide.
Frances Penington is a refugee activist and early childhood educator. She has recently joined the board of Social Policy Connections, and is a member of St Jude’s Parkville.