Required reading in Davos

As the world’s business, political and media elite made their annual trek to the Swiss town of Davos -– blanketed in more snow than I have seen there for a decade -– conventional wisdom had it they should have all the lightheartedness of a gray, winter, Alpine sky. The Eurozone crisis, the difficulty of getting tough political decisions in the United States, and worries in some of the champions among emerging markets – the chance of a property crash in China, for example, or of runaway inflation in India –- were all said to contribute to a note of pessimism among Davos devotees.

But even if you think that the prophets of global economic doom and gloom are right –- I don’t, as it happens, but that’s another story – there are plenty of reasons to be cheerful about the state of the world. Some of them were collected in Bill Gates’s annual letter on the work of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which should be required reading for the Davos crowd. The letter detailed some of the extraordinary advances that have been made in global health, for example, over the past decades, with the roll out of vaccines on a massive scale, tremendous progress, especially in India, on the eradication of polio, and, indeed, on the treatment and prevention of HIV/AIDS. I was particularly pleased that Bill’s letter made mention of the rotavirus vaccine that GAVI is rolling out to tackle one of the leading causes of diarrhea – an appalling killer of children, and one which has rarely gotten the public or political dissension that it deserves.

Of course, the letter pointed out how much more needed to be done so that all people, everywhere, could live lives of equal dignity. More funding needs to be devoted to research and development in agriculture –- a key goal of ONE this year. Those of us who advocate for increased resources to go to the world’s poor appreciate that in tough economic times, we have our work cut out for us. But when generous funders like the Gates Foundation and taxpayers around the world have done so much to combat extreme poverty and preventable disease in the last ten years, now would be the very worst moment to give up the fight. That fight is more likely to be won, as Bill pointed out in a passage on the need for more resources for The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria that is worth quoting at length, if citizens in the rich world understood just how much could be done with comparatively few resources.

“Between 2011 and 2013, assuming that all donors honor their commitments, the Global Fund will disburse $10 billion. This is a $2 billion increase, but not nearly the $12–$14 billion that is needed and was hoped for. Citizens of donor countries should know about the difference their generosity has made. The cost of keeping a patient on AIDS drugs has been coming down, and it looks like getting it to $300 per patient per year should be achievable. That will mean every $300 that governments invest in the Global Fund will put another person on treatment for a year. Every $300 that’s not forthcoming will represent a person taken off treatment. That’s a very clear choice. I believe that if people understood the choice, they would ask their government to save more lives.”