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Bill and Melinda Gates Bust Myths about Development in Africa with Discovery Channel’s “MythBusters” and the Science Guy

Foreign aid helps refugees like Nikuze Aziza provide for their families. (Kiziba Camp, Rwanda 2011, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation)

In the past, Aid for Africa has written optimistically about Africa’s future. Others share our passion, particularly Bill and Malinda Gates.  In the 2014 Gates Annual Letter, the couple discusses development and the poor.  They do this through the lens of three myths that they believe persist and block progress for the poor.  What are the myths?

•    Poor Countries are Doomed to Stay Poor
•    Foreign Aid is a Big Waste
•    Saving Lives Leads to Overpopulation

Their discussion of these myths as they relate to Africa might surprise you.

African countries doomed to stay poor. Really? That would suggest that nothing has changed in the last 50 years.

But much has:  For example, since 1998 annual income per person has risen by two thirds, from $1,300 to $2,200. In the last five years, seven of the 10 fastest growing economies were in Africa. Since 1960, the lifespan of the average Africa has risen from 41 to 57 years, despite the HIV epidemic.

Foreign aid to African countries has been a big waste.  The numbers above would suggest differently.

Drawing on their experience with health programs, the Gates explain that aid provided by governments and foundations to combat preventable diseases has saved millions of lives. How? With immunization of 2.5 billion children against polio, distribution of 360 million insecticide-treated bed nets to prevent malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases, and antiretroviral therapy for 6.1 million HIV- positive people in poor countries, to name a few examples. Similar successes have occurred for agriculture, education, and small business development.

Saving Lives in African Countries Leads to Overpopulation. Actually, it works the other way around.

Healthy children are a key to long-term development. (Dakar, Senegal, 2013, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation)

The 2014 Gates Annual Letter discusses what seems counter-intuitive to many. Parents have more children when they are poor because there is a higher likelihood that one or more of their children will die.  When parents know their children will be healthy and survive, they choose to have fewer.  Keeping children healthy is one of the best ways to control population—along with educating women. This is certainly the case in Africa.

These are the highlights. We hope you read the full letter here. Bill and Melinda Gates get help from Bill Nye, The Science Guy, and Discovery Channel’s MythBusters Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman.

Thanks to philanthropists, governments, development agencies, grassroots organizations, and individuals who support them, things ARE looking up.

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