Thursday, February 08, 2007

The chicken or the egg?

So, richer countries have better health and higher education? But which came first – increased prosperity or better health and education?

Hans Roslings’ Gapminder institute makes dynamic graphs that track improvements in all kinds of measures including health, education and income. They show that in successful countries like India and China, the figures for literacy, schooling, and longevity began to improve before incomes did.

It is clear that while trade may be an essential element that lifts a country out of poverty, this won’t happen without the foundations of improved health and education to begin with.

A literate population with a reasonable lifespan is essential to economic development. While private investment may drive economic development, the foundations of health and education will not be funded by market forces.

The big pharmaceutical companies have not put resources into drugs for malaria because this is a disease of poor countries that can’t afford the drugs. There is no market for them to recoup their investment. So, as the system won’t take care of the problem, some intervention is needed. Seeing this, governments like the British government have offered a guarantee to purchase a malaria vaccine when it is found. This gives pharmaceutical companies the incentive to invest in research.

At the Malaria Vaccine Initiative you can read more about the huge effort going into the development of a malaria vaccine. We will see it in our lifetimes.

In the meantime, you can help build the foundations for future prosperity by giving bright children from poor families a good education at the School of St Jude. Give money, tell your friends, fight poverty through education.

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