Wednesday, June 1, 2011
The beautiful seaside village of Deauville, France, where the G8 leaders just held their annual Summit, is a long way from the villages of Malawi – in more ways than one.
The big story at the summit was the Arab spring – the popular uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere – and how global leaders can support the people of those countries in creating lasting peace, stability and prosperity.
The G8's package of help for the Middle East is timely and important – but key pledges to the developing world still need to be delivered. We don't want an Arab Spring to be followed by a barren summer in Africa.
In Malawi, there is a different kind of uprising happening, but there the government is leading the charge. It is a movement calling for the end of needless deaths of thousands of mothers and children, mostly from preventable and treatable causes.
Malawi is symbolic of the transformation that can happen when a government, even of a poor country, commits itself to a goal and develops sounds policies, programs and partnerships to achieve it. They’ve prioritized proven approaches, like training community health workers, giving vaccines and fighting malnutrition – things that can help prevent and treat leading killers of children, such as diarrhea and pneumonia. And Malawi has achieved results – from 1990 to 2009, under-5 mortality rate has dropped by half.
What does this have to do with the G8? Because even committed countries like Malawi need donor support to stay on track, save lives, and create a brighter future for their countries.
At their previous two summits, G8 leaders made important promises to help developing countries that are struggling with maternal and child health and hunger. In Deauville, the G8 affirmed those commitments, but they need to turn that pledge into action by tackling the shortfall of 3.5 million health workers in the poorest countries. Training just one of these could help deliver lifesaving treatments to hundreds or even thousands of children and save many lives.
The U.S. will have two key moments in the next few months to deliver on its promises. The first is on the 2012 spending bills. Congress has to resist the temptation to sacrifice these proven programs in the name of cutting the federal deficit. Programs to fight global poverty are about half of 1 percent of the federal budget, so cuts to these programs won’t help families in either Michigan or Malawi.
The second moment will come in September in New York when health workers will be top of the agenda at a U.N. summit. In its accountability report, the G8 acknowledged how these workers are critical to health progress. Now the US should come to the U.N. with its plan to help meet the shortfall of 3.5 million health workers and empower those who are already working to save lives.