A special guest post from Melinda Gates:
This week, I’m in Washington with Bill to do something that might seem unusual: say ‘thank you.’ We’re saying thanks to those who have been a part of the U.S. government’s tremendous leadership in improving global health. Our trip will include the launch of a new effort called “Living Proof Project: U.S. Investments in Global Health are Working,” a campaign aimed at conveying to Americans the tremendous progress we are making on multiple fronts in the effort to improve health around the world. Our hope is that if more people see this impact they will be moved to share these compelling stories and support America’s continued leadership in global health.
I know that for Bill and for me, these stories have had a profound impact on the way we look at the opportunities in the years ahead. At our foundation, we have come to believe that sharing stories of success is one of the most important things we can do to motivate and inspire others. Through our work, especially our visits to the field, we have been deeply touched by personal stories of lives changed for the better.
When I visited Ethiopia earlier this year, I met Tsion, a hard-working young Health Extension Worker stationed at the Wuye Gosee community health post in North West Shewa, Oromiya Region – about 3 hours drive north of Addis Ababa. She lives at the health post, in one of the rooms where she sees patients. When she’s not working at the health post, Tsion is visiting other outreach clinics and homes in the area. She and another Health Extension Worker cover a massive caseload of about 1,500 households. They walk more than two hours to reach some of the homes.
One of their most important responsibilities is tending to pregnant mothers and newborns. In Ethiopia, most families choose to deliver their babies at home with the help of traditional birth attendants. These traditional attendants lack important skills like stopping internal bleeding after delivery or resuscitating newborns if they’ve stopped breathing. Now the Ethiopian government has started a Health Extension Program that is rapidly improving access to health care in rural areas. In the past five years, more than 30,000 Health Extension Workers have been trained — and the health of children and women is improving.
The Health Extension Program is a great starting point: an opportunity to deliver safe, effective care for many more women and their newborns. Now we need to build on this success—expanding it to even more women in Ethiopia, and helping families in other countries benefit from what Ethiopia has learned. For millions of women in poor countries, the birth of a child isn’t the pure joy that it should be. It is joy mixed with terror, because there’s a real possibility that the mother or her child will not survive.
That’s why, when it comes to global health, Bill and I are optimists – but we’re impatient optimists.
We’re optimistic because, when we travel around the world, we constantly meet people like Tsion and her patients whose lives have been transformed through smart, generous investments in global health. We have seen living proof that U.S. investments in global health are working. Millions of lives are being saved. Tremendous progress is being made. But there’s still so much more we’re impatient to see done.
When you only hear about the problems in global health, they can seem very daunting. But if you see the amazing progress that’s being made — in part due to the generosity of the U.S. government and other donor nations – I know you’ll be as hopeful as I am. And you’ll want to do more.
Look at what U.S. support has helped accomplish:
- The number of children under 5 who die each year has plunged from more than 20 million in 1960 to fewer than 9 million in 2008
- Vaccines are a great investment with a huge pay-off: since 1980, vaccines have brought down the number of diphtheria cases by 93 percent; tetanus by 85 percent; and measles by nearly 93 percent
- 32 million people received life-saving malaria prevention and treatment services in 2008
The United States and its partners around the world have the potential to save and empower millions more people. Bill and I hope to share these stories of success on October 27, through a live presentation titled “Living Proof: Why we are Impatient Optimists,” which will show how U.S. investments in global health are changing the world.
-Melinda French Gates