The philanthropist Bill Gates has thanked the UAE for its support in working to eliminate deadly diseases and reduce world poverty.
Mr Gates was speaking on the eve of the launch of the 2018 Goalkeepers Report, produced by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and which measures progress towards goals for sustainable development by 2030 set by the United Nations three years ago.
In an interview with The National, Mr Gates said the foundation was "extremely thankful for the generosity of the UAE, including the ruling family, the government and a lot of organisations there".
He said the UAE’s support was crucial not just because of the large sums of money it had committed to disease elimination and vaccination programmes, but because its strong regional role meant it was able to engage the support of other governments.
He cited Pakistan and Afghanistan, where the UAE has been active in vaccination campaigns working to eliminate the last clusters of polio in some of the most remote tribal regions.
“There's an effort there to draw on the entire region and the voice of that region where on issues like the polio campaign, the strong relationships both up into Pakistan and Afghanistan, and relationships going down into some of the countries in Africa have been very helpful in getting to religious leaders and getting the focus from the political leaders on these health issues,” he said.
With the Foundation reaching out to Middle East governments to take leadership roles in fighting world poverty, “the UAE has been particularly strong in this,” Mr Gates said.
This is the second Goalkeepers report, with the name referring to leaders in the public and private sector who are committed eliminating poverty and hunger, achieving better health and education, providing clean and affordable energy and improving the environment.
The UN has set out 17 goals in these areas, and others, including gender equality and water quality, that it wants to achieve by 2030.
The 2018 report, released to coincide with the opening of the UN General Assembly in New York today (September 18), measures progress so far and assesses the probability that these goals will be met.
There is a particular focus on Africa where the Gates Foundation has invested more than US$15 billion (Dh55bn) and plans to spend even more in the future.
With the highest percentage of young people in the world, what happens to them “will be the single biggest determinant of whether the world makes progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals - that is, whether life on this planet keeps getting better”, the report says.
Large scale investment in the right areas has already led to historic reductions in global poverty over the last 30 years, the foundation says, from China and India to, most recently, Ethiopia.
It provides evidence that the number of people living in extreme poverty – meaning they survive on less than US$2 a day - has fallen from one in three of the world population in 1990 to less than one in ten by last year.
Over the last 20 years, that represents one billion people, Mr Gates said, while population growth, another measure of improved living standards, is largely flat.
But the overall trend conceals significant regional variations, especially in Africa and other developing countries.
“If you just take Africa, even though it's only 14 per cent of the population of the world, it's 24 percent of the births already,” Mr Gates said.
“Over the century, it lights up and becomes half of the births. So, you actually have a lot of population growth in Africa, even though the globe as a whole, the growth isn't that dramatic.”
Of the 10 countries projected to be the poorest in the world by the middle of this century, all are in Africa. More than six in 10 of those living in the worst poverty will be Africans.
Nigeria alone will see its population explode from 190 million today to 429 million by 2050. Over 150 million of these will be living in abject poverty.
Yet investing in human capital projects in these countries could boost their economies by 90 per cent by that date, creating political and economic stability and stemming the flow of mass migration, the report concludes.
How is the world doing? By the numbers.
Poverty: Nearly two billion people lived in extreme poverty in 1990, meaning their income was less than $1.90 a day. A further 3bn survived on $3.20. The lower income group has now fallen to 700 million.
In south Asia the number living in extreme poverty had fallen by more than three quarters by 2016. In sub-Saharan Africa, however, the numbers have increased, from around 700 million in 1990 to over a billion today.
Childhood diseases. Targets for vaccinating children are well on their way to meeting the UN's 2030 global targets and have rates have risen steadily since 2000. At the turn of the century just one in 100 children received full protection against pneumococcal, an infectious disease than can lead to pneumonia, sepsis and meningitis. Today it is over half. But there are still significant gaps. Five countries in sub Saharan Africa are still well below that number, and yearly vaccination rates can often be unstable, dropping as well as rising from year to year.
Gender Equality: For the first time, the Foundation's annual report measures unpaid domestic work and carers, typically the responsibility of women, as a way of assessing gender equality. This work ranges from fetching wood and water for cooking to caring for children, the elderly and the sick. It concludes that in 28 countries, 88 per cent of women saw their earnings decline as a result of these unpaid tasks. Worldwide it means women between 25 to 34 are 22 per cent more likely to be extremely poor than man in the same age group.
Maternal and child mortality: The UN's Global Goals target is to cut maternal deaths to less than 70 per 100,000 births by 2030. In 1990, around 297 out of every 100,000 women died in childbirth. Those numbers have since been cut by half, but may still fall short of the UN target for 2030, reaching 119 deaths per 100,000 by then.
For deaths of newborns, the UN set the ambitious reducing the number of infant deaths to 12 out of every 1,000 live births for babies and 24 deaths for every 1,000 among the under-fives.
New vaccines and substantial effort to inoculate children had more than halved the rate of 87 deaths for 100,000 live births in 1990 by last year, but will likely decline only another 30 per cent by 2030.
Malaria: As with polio, this is an area where the UAE has made a significant contribution. Last September, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, made a Dh18 million pledge to fight the disease, which is carried by mosquitos.
But while polio is well on the way to being eliminated, malaria, in the words of the Gates Foundation, is “at a crossroads.” Cases of malaria surged to 40 per 1,000 people just over a decade ago but have declined to 29 per 1,000 today. The target of nine out of a thousand by 2030 can be reached and even bettered, the Foundation says, with better surveillance of disease patterns and next generation bed nets. But without the right measures, infections could just as easily rise to former levels.
Sanitation: Back in 1990 nearly six out 10 people in the world lacked proper sanitation. Today that number is three in 10. The goal of the UN is to cut this further to 22 per cent by 2030. The Foundation says more improvement will come from improved water treatment and better sewage collection, but also from a new generation of toilets that can kill pathogens in waste but do not need connecting to a sewer.
Money: Not having a bank account or access to financial services is a major obstacle to breaking free from poverty for much of the world. New mobile based technologies have transformed this problem. While only 37 per cent of people had access to financial services in 2007, today it is nearly 70 per cent. By 2030, the goal is for this to rise to over 90 percent. There remains a worrying gap between men and women of around seven per cent worldwide which has remained unchanged in this period and which in some countries is significantly wider. "If women and men aren't included equally…inequality will grow instead of shrinking, and countries will fall short of their economic potential," the Gates foundation warns.