Gates Annual Letter Aims to Debunk Myths About Global Poverty

Gates Annual Letter Aims to Debunk Myths About Global Poverty

In the sixth annual letter (HTML or PDF, 28 pages) he has issued since 2009, Bill Gates addresses three myths about global poverty — that poor countries are doomed to stay poor, that foreign aid is a big waste, and that saving lives leads to overpopulation — myths which he and his wife, Melinda, who contributed to this year's letter, believe are impeding efforts to eradicate extreme poverty and preventable diseases in the developing world.

Using photographs, videos, graphs, and slideshows, the co-chairs of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation highlight the progress made since 1960 in reducing child mortality rates, pollution, and extreme poverty and in improving education and health. Indeed, at this rate, Bill Gates writes, "By 2035, there will be almost no poor countries left in the world." While there will be poor people in every region of the world, "[a]lmost all countries will be what we now call lower-middle income or richer. Countries will learn from their most productive neighbors and benefit from innovations like new vaccines, better seeds, and the digital revolution. Their labor forces, buoyed by expanded education, will attract new investments."

The foundation for such long-term economic progress has been laid by foreign aid, the Gateses argue. Although the United States spends roughly $30 billion annually on such assistance — or less than 1 percent of the federal budget — aid from other donors has enabled nongovernmental organizations such as the GAVI Alliance to vaccinate 440 million children against preventable diseases, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative to immunize 2.5 billion children, and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria to provide 6.1 million HIV-positive people with antiretroviral therapy and treat 11.2 million cases of tuberculosis. And while corruption and waste in the distribution of foreign aid must be addressed, the Gateses write, technology will bolster efforts to hold governments accountable.

Debunking the myth that saving children's lives will lead to overpopulation, Melinda Gates illustrates in her portion of the letter how child mortality and birth rates fall when children are well-nourished, fully vaccinated, and treated for common illnesses such as diarrhea, malaria, and pneumonia. "[T]he virtuous cycle that starts with basic health and empowerment ends not only with a better life for women and their families, but with significant economic growth at the country level," Gates writes. "Creating societies where people enjoy basic health, relative prosperity, fundamental equality, and access to contraceptives is the only way to secure a sustainable world." 

"2014 Gates Annual Letter: 3 Myths That Block Progress for the Poor." Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Annual Letter 01/20/2014.