I have been quite fortunate to see countless foreign aid programs funded by United States citizens in both Asia and Africa over the years. One of the things that saddens me most as a mother and as an American is that while I am able to see firsthand how monumental these programs are to the health and wellbeing of women, children, and families, I know that the vast majority of my fellow citizens believe wholeheartedly that either these programs don’t work — that helping poor people in developing countries is a perpetual Sisyphean task — or, that the United States is funding these programs at the expense of its own citizens. Both of these notions are gargantuan myths in global health that I hear all of the time and I hope that by spreading the word about Bill and Melinda Gates’ Annual Letter, 3 Myths That Block Progress for the Poor, that was released today I can do my part to help dispel them and others.
This year Bill and Melinda Gates have taken a different approach to their Annual Letter. This year, they are tackling head-on the most prominent global health myths that take root on the Net, around the water cooler, at the kitchen table, and even in the media that tend to spread unabated like wildfire. If you follow global health and development news these myths will probably be all too familiar to you: Poor countries are doomed to stay poor, foreign aid is a big waste, and saving lives leads to overpopulation. But, if you don’t follow global health and development you’ll probably be in for a huge surprise when you read the Gates’ Annual Letter and see the evidence that shows how much aid does work and how deep assumptions about foreign aid are false.
In their Annual Letter, Bill and Melinda Gates lay out compelling, factual, well-documented data that the world is becoming a better place because people the world over from governments to NGOs to foundations to the private sector to everyday individuals – have invested in ensuring that there are programs in place to help people in need. Foreign aid in the United States is less than 1% of the total budget. That comes to roughly $30 billion dollars. That money goes a long way in helping to keep people alive and thriving. Less than 1% of the US federal budget does this! Due to the data showing advancements in overall health and development in poor and middle income countries you know that those who run these programs have been exemplary stewards of US taxpayer money and have saved lives.
This year Bill Nye helped Bill and Melinda Gates illustrate just how little the United States spends on foreign aid and how powerful those dollars are around the world.
Bill and Melinda Gates also dispel the myth that poor countries are doomed to stay poor. This is also wholly untrue. In fact, as Bill Gates lays out in the Annual Letter by 2035, there will be nearly no poor countries left save for some like North Korea and other landlocked central African countries. And, the number of really poor people has been halved since 1990. Here Bill Gates shows exactly what has happened to the rate of poor countries since 1960.
And finally, one of the biggest myths is that if more lives are saved, overpopulation will result. This is greatly untrue and not the way population works. “When children survive in greater numbers,” Melinda Gates writes, “parents decide to have smaller families.” There is no one more apt at illustrating this population fact than reknown professor Hans Rosling.
What did you think of these myths? Did you realize that the budget for US foreign aid was so small?
Read Bill and Melinda Gates’ Annual Letter at gatesletter.com.
Disclosure: I write for the Gates Foundation blog, Impatient Optimists.