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Bill Gates: Strides in Global Health at Risk if Rich Nations Pull Back


FILE - Bill Gates, co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, speaks during a news conference on neglected tropical diseases in Geneva, Switzerland, April 18, 2017.

The world is making enormous strides in areas such as child mortality, HIV and extreme poverty, but if the U.S. and other countries pull back funding, that progress could slow, said Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft.

When it comes to HIV, for example, “if we had a 10 percent cut in the funding, we'd have 5 million more deaths by 2030,” said Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “What happens matters here.”

FILE - A patient in the advanced stages of AIDS, lays in his bed at the Mai Hoa Center for HIV and AIDS patients in the village of An Nhon Tay, 60 kilometers, (37 miles) northwest of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, Oct. 10, 2009.
FILE - A patient in the advanced stages of AIDS, lays in his bed at the Mai Hoa Center for HIV and AIDS patients in the village of An Nhon Tay, 60 kilometers, (37 miles) northwest of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, Oct. 10, 2009.

On Wednesday, the Gates Foundation issued its first annual report card on 18 indicators of global health and well being. The report looks out to 2030 and projects what will happen on these key markers depending on factors such as global funding.

Great progress

The report, “Goalkeepers: The Stories Behind the Data,” which the Gates Foundation produced in partnership with the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, shows great progress being made in key areas:

· Six million fewer children under five die annually than did in 1990, thanks mostly to increased use of vaccines and better newborn care.

· AIDS- related deaths have fallen by almost half since the peak in 2005.

· Nine percent of the population is at the international poverty line compared to 35 percent in 1990, a trend mostly credited to gains made by people in China and India.

During a telephone press conference, Gates attributed some of the success to world governments coming together to address problems, as well as medical innovations.

Country success stories

Gates called out several countries for their great strides on health issues:

· Ethiopia - Maternal deaths have been cut more than half since 1990, due to efforts to encourage women to give birth in health facilities rather than at home.

· Senegal - 15 percent of women use modern contraceptives compared to three percent in 1990.

· Peru - Stunting (or low height) in children dropped to 18 percent, down from 39 percent in 1990.

The 0.7 percent commitment

In 1970, the U.N. created a target — governments would spend 0.7 percent of their annual gross domestic income in international aid. While the U.S. is the largest international aid contributor, it hasn’t reached the 0.7 mark. Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, Luxembourg, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates are among countries that have met or exceeded the 0.7 target.

A man carries sacks of food aid delivered by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and world food program in the village of Makunzi Wali, Central African Republic, April 27, 2017.
A man carries sacks of food aid delivered by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and world food program in the village of Makunzi Wali, Central African Republic, April 27, 2017.

Gates said he is concerned that some wealthy nations appear to be reconsidering their commitment to global humanitarian funding.

“Are people looking out internationally?” he said. “And willing to continue to back these improvements?”

Retrenchment on global aid?

Gates specifically addressed the Trump administration’s proposed budget, which has “fairly substantial cuts, including to things like polio, HIV and malaria.”

FILE - Two children stricken down with malaria rest at the local hospital in the small village of Walikale, Congo.
FILE - Two children stricken down with malaria rest at the local hospital in the small village of Walikale, Congo.

Congress doesn’t appear to be willing to accept those cuts, he noted, and would likely “maintain pretty close to the same level in most areas."

The world's commitment to tackling health and poverty issues is as important as ever, Gates said, because there’s a shift in more children being born in poor countries. A child born in Angola has a 75 percent higher chance of dying before age five than one born in Finland, he said.

FILE - Women and children wait to be treated at a Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) support clinic in Thaker, Southern Unity, South Sudan, March 20, 2017.
FILE - Women and children wait to be treated at a Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) support clinic in Thaker, Southern Unity, South Sudan, March 20, 2017.

“We’re saying that progress is not inevitable,” he said. “The counter trends are that if countries do not think about these global problems, and you get cuts, or if you have setbacks, in terms of pandemics and things like that, you can have reversals.”

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