Education, healthcare can win global war on poverty: Goalkeepers report

One billion people worldwide have come out of poverty since 2000, but rapid population growth in the world’s poorest countries threatens to slow or even reverse the decline, according to The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Goalkeepers: The Stories Behind the Data 2018 released on Tuesday.
The report cites examples of China, India and Ethiopia as countries that have achieved “historic growth” over the past 30 years despite being once considered hopeless at cutting poverty.(AP/Picture for representation)
The report cites examples of China, India and Ethiopia as countries that have achieved “historic growth” over the past 30 years despite being once considered hopeless at cutting poverty.(AP/Picture for representation)
Published on Sep 19, 2018 07:32 AM IST
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Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By

ne billion people worldwide have come out of poverty since 2000, but rapid population growth in the poorest countries, particularly in Africa, threatens to slow or even reverse the decline, according to The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Goalkeepers: The Stories Behind the Data, 2018, released Tuesday.

Investing in health and education of young people can unlock productivity and innovation, create opportunities and cut poverty, leading to a “third wave” of poverty reduction in Africa — after the first and second waves in China and India.

The report says China, India and Ethiopia have achieved “historic growth” over the past 30 years despite being once considered hopeless at cutting poverty. Ethiopia, which was once the global poster child for famine, is projected to almost eliminate extreme poverty by year 2050.

“We believe — and history proves — that poor countries can chart a new course by investing in their young people. If young people are healthy, educated, and productive, there are more people to do the kind of innovative work that stimulates rapid growth,” write Bill and Melinda Gates in the introduction.

“India has already shown tremendous progress on this front. We are no longer home to the largest number of poor people in the world. In fact, the number of extremely poor falls by 44 people a minute, according to World Poverty Clock,” said Nachiket Mor, national director, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation India.

With the population in Africa projected to nearly double by 2050, even halving the percentage of poor in the continent would result in the number of poor people staying the same. Investments in health and education in sub-Saharan Africa could increase the gross domestic product by more than 90% by 2050.

Learning milestones

While India has pushed back poverty and pushed up primary school enrolment to 97%, it needs a clearer strategy to improve outcomes to ensure children acquire the skills needed to succeed, said the report, which tracks 18 data points from the UN Sustainable Development Goals, including child and maternal deaths, stunting, access to contraceptives, HIV, malaria, extreme poverty, financial inclusion, sanitation.

“Early school years are very important for cognitive development, and if children below the age of five are malnourished and education is of poor quality, they are likely to miss development opportunities. Quality education must give them the competence and confidence to meet the changing skill requirements in the new world. They must have skills that make them competent to migrate between jobs, as the world no longer works in silos,” said Dr Srinath Reddy, president, Public Health Foundation of India.

Innovations such as grouping students based on what they know, rather than by age or grade, and providing personalised instruction in an online environment help improve performance on tests.

According to the Annual Status of Education Report, only a quarter of Class 3 students can read and understand a short story or subtract two-digit numbers. Making foundational learning by Class 3 a priority is needed to excel, as exemplified by Vietnam, where foundational skills in maths and reading in primary school led to students outperforming peers from wealthy countries like the UK and the US on international tests (the US’s GDP per capita is 27 times than that of Vietnam’s), writes Ashish Dhawan, chairman, Central Square Foundation, a Delhi-based think-tank.

Health for all

A person can never reach his or her potential without quality education and healthcare. “Catastrophic illnesses push 60 million people into poverty in India, and by providing ~5 lakh hospitalisation cover under Ayushman Bharat, at least 40 million will come out of poverty,” said Dileep Mavlankar, director, Indian Institute of Public Health Gandhinagar

While vaccines are lowering deaths from diarrhoea and pneumonia, bed nets have prevented more than 500 million cases of malaria, according to the report.

“It [Goalkeepers report] is also an opportunity for us to look at the positive strides we have made in India, and while we continue on this trajectory, how we can also share our lessons and experiences and leverage them to support other developing economies, and help them enable and mainstream those in need,” said Mor.

Apart from education, this year’s report examines three other topics: family planning to empower women to choose when, with whom, and how many children they will have; HIV modelling for what Zimbabwe’s HIV epidemic might like look in 2050; and doubling agricultural productivity in Ghana to create jobs and cut poverty by half.

“If we invest in human capital today, young people wearing sandals in the poorest, fastest growing countries will be riding bicycles tomorrow — and inventing cheaper, cleaner, safer cars next week. That’s good for everyone,” write Bill and Melinda Gates in the report.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Sanchita is the health & science editor of the Hindustan Times. She has been reporting and writing on public health policy, health and nutrition for close to two decades. She is an International Reporting Project fellow from Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at the Bloomberg School of Public Health and was part of the expert group that drafted the Press Council of India’s media guidelines on health reporting, including reporting on people living with HIV.

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