Monday, April 10, 2006

In trying to fact check the Washington Post article on new lower estimates of HIV rates in Africa I came across a plan to eradicate TB by the folks at the Stop TB Partnership.

What is really interesting is that they place it within the MDG context. As they say in the summary that appears in March 18 edition of Lancet:

"All the MDGs seek to contribute to poverty reduction. The greater the effect on any of them, the greater the effect on poverty will be. The Global Plan to Stop TB will have its greatest direct effect on MDG 6 by combating tuberculosis as one of the "other diseases" mentioned alongside HIV and malaria (figure). By reducing the toll of ill health associated with tuberculosis on the poor, however, and by reducing the health-care costs associated with securing a diagnosis, treatment, and cure, MDG 1 (eradication of poverty) will also be affected. How the Plan might indirectly contribute to achievement of MDGs 3, 4, and 5 is not explicit but would require a clearer focus on the gender related aspects of tuberculosis control."

They do not have all the answers yet, but at least they are finally asking the right question.

Friday, April 07, 2006

MDGs in the Least Developed Countries: the Asian Experience

I sat in on an interesting round table yesterday about LDCs in Asia. The region is home to 14 LDCs with a population of 260m people. And, despite facing environmental and geographic challenges, receiving half the per capita aid of other LDCs (and one tenth the debt relief), and being home to the two countries with the lowest human development level in the world – Afghanistan and Timor Leste – as a group they are on track to achieve 6 of the 11 MDG targets.

I think the report is definitely worth a quick look (and at 37 pages you can pretty much get the whole thing in 30 minutes). First, it is full of concrete ideas of how a great many poor countries, despite limited resources, can do a better job of reaching the MDGs. From ideas for improving trade within the region to suggestions for better governance (both of countries and aid), it is a succinct and well written introduction to the challenges the region faces.

Second, it highlights what Hafiz Pasha calls the tyranny of averages: as the average income rises for the region there is a tendency to forget those left behind. "Widening gaps in a dynamic region such as Asia and the Pacific represent a cause of concern, as well as an opportunity for intervention."


Tuesday, April 04, 2006

What's the Point?

Over at the Center for Global Development they are once more talking about how the MDGs are a terrible idea because "it is already clear that these fantastically utopian goals will label many development successes as failures."

The Center is a great place full of some of the best minds on development issues. Their willingness to challenge the status quo thinking in the development community is also crucial given our tendency towards group think. Niceties aside though, their constant attack on the MDGs is worrisome.

First, the MDGs "deadline" is over 9 years away. Yet a generation ago a committed United States was able to place a man on the moon – another "unreachable" challenge – in 8 years! The challenges we face in achieving them should not be minimized. We cannot put food into 800 million empty stomachs over night. The schools, books, and will needed to get 100 million children into school won't materialize one morning. But for those who support building a stronger, safer world (from heads of think tanks to those who volunteer their evenings), rather than spending our influence to bury the Goals we should focus that energy on getting one more village clean water or protecting a child from malaria.

Another important role of the MDGs is to remind us of the inter-relation of these diverse Goals. Ensuring everyone has clean water is linked to reducing child mortality for the millions of families who lose a child to dehydration. And we know that helping little girls go to school is important to improving maternal health.

But what about the danger that we will fail to achieve them? After Britains recent failure to reach its child poverty reduction targets, the Education Minister Margaret Hodge responded not with despair but by saying "Of course we've got to constantly renew our thinking. Of course we've got to redouble our efforts." If in 2015 the Senegalese has not succeeded getting every one of their children through primary school do you think they will abolish their education department?

Likely they will respond as Ms. Hodge: "But you - three or four years ago - probably would never have thought we'd get this far. And we've set ourselves deliberately tough targets so that we really do drive forward policy and have a real change for children and their families."

The MDGs are hard! But only by challenging ourselves can we hope to create the change and innovation needed to liberate a billion people from poverty.