Thursday, September 23, 2010

High tech TEDx event shows that child health is within reach

NEW YORK, NY — On the opening day of the United National Summit on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) Monday, I participated in a most unusual media and educational event organized by TEDxChange, a collaboration between TEDx and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The live event from the Paley Center for Media on 52nd Street featured Melinda Gates, Hans Rosling, Mechai Viravaidya and Graça Machel in front of a live audience of, as TEDx host Chris Anderson put it, luminaries and changemakers (Ted Turner was in the audience along with NGO and foundation leaders). A live webcast of the event was viewed my millions around the world, and from 82 TEDx events, several of which we saw on camera in live shots, and and is now available to view online.

I viewed the event from “Bloggers’ Alley,” several floors above the event, with about 20 other bloggers and new media journalists, most of whom had laptops and smart phones to extend the salient facts of the event even further into the world. We viewed the event on two screens at either end of the room. And we had a third screen, which displayed a constant stream of all tweets including the #TEDxChange hashtag. The deluge of the Twitterstream produced a continuous stream of concise Tweets that came about one per second for the entire 90 minutes of the event and even after it ended.

It was a fabulous display of what is possible with communications technology in the 21st century. But the content revealed at the event several floors below was even more compelling.

The speakers were all terrific – Melinda Gates and Graça Machel displayed their passion and commitment to improving the world and Hans Rosling and Mechai Viravaidya (Mr. Condom of Thailand) regaled us with their knowledge, energy and sense of humor.

I particularly enjoyed Dr. Rosling, a professor of international health and co-founder of the Gapminder Foundation, who dazzled us with his computer graphics, which convert international statistics into moving interactive graphics showing us the history of child mortality.

In one part of his presentation, Dr. Rosling showed us the fall in child mortality in Sweden (starting with 400 child deaths per 1,000 born in 1800), Egypt (with 300 deaths in 1960) and Thailand (with 150 deaths in 1960), and ending with all three countries ending with roughly the same low level of child mortality.

Later, he presented a graph of the relationship between child mortality and family size in 1960, with “developing countries” clumped together in the upper right (high mortality and high family size) and the “Western” countries in the lower left (low mortality and low family size). Then, in an amazing and awe-inspiring display of computer graphics, he made the graph come alive and move through time to 2000. Many of those developing countries in the upper right moved rapidly into the lower left quadrant, with Dr. Rosling urging them on: “Come over to our side,” he exclaimed. “Welcome to a decent life.”

The conclusion of his presentation, which made clear the association between child mortality and falling family size: “The MDG on child mortality is fully possible.”

It was an inspiring way to begin the MDG Summit.

NOTE: Some of Dr. Rosling’s amazing graphics are available are available at Gapminder World and on this website.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

In malaria prevention, positive change in Mali, and elsewhere

WASHINGTON, DC — As a young development worker for Lutheran World Relief in Mali 20 years ago, I engaged in high-risk behavior occasionally. In my extended journeys around the country, I slept in villages from the Sahara Desert in the north to the Niger River Delta and Dogon Country in the center to the southern savanna, but rarely with a mosquito net hanging over me, and certainly not an insecticide-treated one.

I paid for my sins: I was struck down by malaria after an overnight stay in a southern Mali village in the middle of the rainy season. Malaria made me feel so awful, so lethargic, that I thought I might die and worse, I didn’t much care. In those days, mosquito nets were hard to come by, especially if you were a poor, rural Malian. And most Malians are poor and rural.

But a lot has changed in 20 years. Today, a new report unveiled at the National Press Club shows that Mali is an important part of a pan-African malaria success story. In 2000, there were an estimated 22,663 malaria deaths among children 1 to 59 months in Mali. From 2001 to 2010, the global investment in malaria control prevented 65,065 malaria deaths, the most of any of the 34 malaria endemic countries in Africa.

And Mali is only one piece of an even bigger story: The new report "Saving Lives with Malaria Control: Counting Down to the Millennium Development Goals" — authored by Tulane University, Johns Hopkins University, the World Health Organization and PATH and published today by Roll Back Malaria — reveals that the lives of almost three quarters of a million children in these 34 countries were saved in the last 10 years through the use of insecticide-treated mosquito nets and other preventive measures.

Most importantly, the report estimates that an additional 3 million lives could be saved by 2015 if the world continues to increase investment in tackling the disease.

This should provide a clarion call for world leaders who gather in New York next week for the UN Summit on the Millennium Development Goals as they seek ways to meet the eight goals in the five years remaining in the 15-year timeline of the MDGs.

The report shows clearly what is required: U.S. and other international donors should just keep investing in malaria control the way they have been doing the last few years, and 3 million more lives could be saved in the next five years.

Here is the press release on the report.