Opinion: The world is moving backward in the combat against poverty and disease. Here’s what we need to do


Editor’s Note: Mark Suzman is the CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Guided by the belief that every life has equal value, the foundation works to help all people lead healthy lives and reach their full potential. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own.

The first two decades of the 21st century provided more progress for more people than perhaps any other period in human history. Deaths from malaria, HIV and tuberculosis were cut in half. Child deaths fell dramatically. Polio was nearly eradicated. And the global poverty rate fell by nearly three-quarters.

Since the Covid-19 pandemic, many of these trends have changed for the worse. Each year, our foundation releases the Goalkeepers report, which measures the world’s progress in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals that UN member states endorsed in 2015. And according to this year’s report, to meet most of the goals by the target of 2030, we’d have to dramatically pick up the pace.

Why? If you asked six experts to name the biggest crisis the world faces today, you might get six different answers: Geopolitical conflict. Food insecurity. Climate change. Gender inequality. Learning loss. Infectious disease. And they would all be correct.

At the Gates Foundation, we believe it’s possible, and imperative, to invest in long-term, sustainable action, especially after two years of conflict, pandemic and polarization. At the United Nations General Assembly meeting, governments and donors should prioritize solutions that will help the most vulnerable today and will make a lasting impact for years to come.

This is an extremely fragile moment for the world. Some of the poorest countries face external debt distress. Rising inflation has affected virtually every nation, reducing countries’ spending power and forcing tough financial tradeoffs. An alarming number of people, particularly women, are hungry worldwide. Many countries are pulling back on development aid that helps strengthen health and food systems over the long term in low- and middle- income countries. Some have redirected funds from these priorities to address crises at home.

Humanitarian aid is critical. Yet if short-term funding means neglecting long-term investment, health emergencies and food shortages will become even more frequent — and more intense.

The success of organizations like the Global Fund, an international financing and partnership organization that invests billions a year to fight infectious diseases like HIV, malaria and tuberculosis, shows how valuable long-term investment is. Over the last two decades, health programs supported by the fund have helped save 50 million lives through prevention and treatment. And because of generous commitments by countries like Japan, Germany and the United States, the Global Fund will continue to strengthen health systems and save millions more lives. Over the next week, our foundation will announce new financial commitments to help accelerate progress toward the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals — from our pledge to the Global Fund to new investments in food and nutrition security.

While the Goalkeepers report details real setbacks in areas like gender equality and food security, it also highlights some of the most high-impact investments that can be made right now. For example, Melinda French Gates writes about effective ways to unleash women’s power and economic resilience, including expanding access to digital financial tools like mobile accounts that put money into women’s hands, giving them more control over their money than cash payments do. We can also build and strengthen caregiving infrastructure, so women can earn an income outside the home and entrepreneurs can run childcare businesses of their own.

On food security, Bill Gates shines a spotlight on agricultural innovations, from crops more resistant to drought and floods to the “Agriculture Adaptation Atlas,” a new data visualization tool that predicts the intensifying impact of climate change on farming and can help determine what crops to plant, and where.

If we work together, we can ensure these kinds of solutions reach as many people as possible, as soon as possible. Hunger, disease and inequity are problems without borders, and every sector has a role to play in solving them. Solutions can come from everywhere: from the most advanced labs and the most remote communities.

Progress is going to take a new level of collaboration, investment and innovation. But together, we can build a world where everyone can realize their full potential, no matter who they are or where they live.

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