Bill Gates predicts historic improvement in lives of world’s poor

Improvements in child mortality rates, food security in Africa, mobile banking and education software will all help reduce poverty by 2030, predict Bill and Melinda Gates

The lives of people in poor countries will improve faster than at any other period in human history and better than anyone else’s during the next 15 years, Bill and Melinda Gates forecast in their 2015 annual letter, issued by their namesake philanthropic foundation.

The duo identified four areas of improvement by 2030, including reduction in child deaths, Africa’s ability to feed itself, the role of mobile banking in transforming poor people’s lives, and better software that will revolutionise learning.

“We see an opportunity and we want to make the most of it. We’re putting our credibility, time, and money behind this bet—and asking others to join us—because we think there has never been a better time to accelerate progress and have a big impact around the world,” the Gates said in the letter.

Bill Gates, co-founder of software giant Microsoft, formed his foundation in 2000 with Melinda Gates. The charity focuses on poverty and healthcare in developing countries and education and equal opportunity in the US. It had given $31.6bn in grants as of September 30, according to its website.

While some countries will continue to struggle, the Gates believe the next 15 years will see major breakthroughs for most people in poor countries, enabling them to live longer and healthier.

Innovative technology will be the driving force behind those breakthroughs, leading to new vaccines, hardier crops, much cheaper smartphones and tablets delivered to larger groups of people.

By 2030, the Gates forecast child deaths would be slashed in half, while more diseases would be eradicated than ever before. Based on the progress the world has made since 1990, global health equity is achievable, they argued. Accelerated investment in healthcare and research and development has improved vaccine and treatment coverage and led to the development of new ones.

“The percentage of children who die before age 5 has been cut in half. We predict that the next 15 years will see the pace of these developments increase even faster. The world is going to make unprecedented progress in global health,” the Gates said.

Within the next 15 years, the number of children who die before age 5 can be cut in half again. This means bringing it down to 1 in every 40 children, compared to one in every 20 today.

The number of mothers dying during childbirth can also be reduced by two thirds, with women in developing countries increasingly giving birth at healthcare facilities instead of at home. By ensuring caregivers at health facilities are well-trained and well-equipped, childbirth can become even safer.

Africa will also be in a much better position to produce food to feed its population, instead of relying on imports. Despite seven out of ten people living in sub-Saharan Africa being farmers, the continent is heavily reliant on food imports from rich countries, spending as much as $50 billion annually.

Innovations in farming, the availability of a better fertilizer and crops that are more productive, nutritious, and drought and disease resistant, could enable African farmers to double their extremely low yields, the document suggests.

“With the right investments, we can deliver innovation and information to enough farmers in Africa to increase productivity by 50 percent for the continent overall,” it said.

Mobile banking is also set to radically transform poor people’s lives over the next 15 years, with digital banking allowing them more control over their assets. Mobile phones will play a crucial role in making this reality, with many people already using them as debit cards.

The Gates estimate that 2 billion people who don’t have a bank account today will be storing money and making payments with their mobile phones by 2030. By that time, mobile money providers will be offering the full range of financial services, spanning savings accounts, credit and insurance.

In addition, the increased availability and affordability of high-speed cell networks and smartphones is expected to boost online education, creating a revolution in learning, especially where economic growth requires educated workers. This development will help close the global literacy gap, with equal access to education and technology leading to more empowerment for women and girls.      

Photo credit: BMGF