The Ebola outbreak in West Africa started with just one case. More than nine months later, it’s now outrunning the ability of fragile countries and relief organizations in the three most-affected countries to contain it. Clinics and hospitals are overloaded. Sick people are being turned away. Things could get much worse unless something changes.
Jim Yong Kim's blog
For only the third time in its 66-year history, the World Health Organization has declared a global public health emergency. This time it is for the Ebola outbreak in the three West African countries of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. After their traumatic ordeal in recent months, governments and communities in those three countries are looking desperately for signs that Ebola can be stopped in its tracks.
As medical doctors who understand well both the continent of Africa and infectious disease control, we are confident that the Ebola virus disease response plan, led both by the countries and the World Health Organization, can contain this Ebola outbreak and, in a matter of months, extinguish it. Let's also keep in mind that this is not an African problem, but a humanitarian one that happens to occur in a small part of Africa.
Good governance is critical for all countries around the world today. When it doesn’t exist, many governments fail to deliver public services effectively; health and education services are often substandard; corruption persists in rich and poor countries alike, choking opportunity and growth. It will be difficult to reduce extreme poverty — let alone end it — without addressing the importance of good governance.
China’s high economic growth during the last three decades is well known. But less attention has been paid to the dividends of that growth and the country’s rapid urbanization: China has lifted half a billion people out of poverty in the last 30 years – an historic feat.
But the country’s leadership knows that many challenges remain – some coming as a result of the rapid growth. For 30 years, the World Bank Group has had a strong partnership with the government and we’ve recently completed two landmark joint studies: China 2030 (guided by the leadership of my predecessor, Robert Zoellick), and the Urban China report, released just a few months ago.
Two years ago today, I was honored and humbled to become president of the World Bank Group, whose mission – ending poverty – I have been working toward most of my life. One of my first questions for the World Bank economists was whether it would be possible to end extreme poverty, and if so, how long it would take. The answer came back that it would be difficult but possible to end extreme poverty by 2030.
Since then, the 188 countries that hold shares in the World Bank have endorsed this goal, which previously few people believed would ever be achievable, let alone in our lifetimes. And it’s been my mission to find the best ways to leverage the talent, knowledge, and influence of the Bank Group to make it happen.
A major World Bank Group report this week found that growth is stagnating in developing countries. It’s projected to be below 5 percent for the third straight year. That’s too modest to create the kind of jobs we need to improve the lives of the poorest people around the world.
If this trend continues, it will have long-term negative implications on developing countries, including the loss of an historic opportunity to end extreme poverty in the next generation. Millions of people around the world have been able to escape poverty over the last few decades largely because of high economic growth in developing countries.
The Lebanese are generous people – that was clear to me when I visited an elementary school in Beirut attended by many Syrian children who fled their war-torn nation with their parents. The children greeted me warmly and told me that Lebanon was very similar to Syria, but that they really missed their homes. It’s inspiring to see how the Lebanese have opened up their doors, their schools, their health clinics, and their communities for more than 1 million Syrian refugees.
When I turned 22, I was struggling a bit. I was just two months into my first year at Harvard Medical School, and I had gone from an undergraduate environment at Brown University where I was an activist with a diverse group of peers to a situation where I was memorizing anatomy out of a textbook each and every night. It seemed a real letdown.
Over the next months and years, I met fellow activists including Paul Farmer, with whom I co-founded Partners In Health, and that opened up new possibilities. A few years later, I entered a PhD program in anthropology. Both connected the lessons from medical school to real passions of mine.
When I was 22, one thing naturally led to another. Even so, I wish I knew then what I understand better now about preparing myself for the future. I have three suggestions that I wish someone had told me when I was younger.
I have the great privilege in my job as president of the World Bank Group of speaking to some of the most creative political and business leaders around the world. One of the consistent themes across all of these conversations is the recognition that we must accelerate innovation to end extreme poverty and to grow economies in a way that is shared by all. What we lack is clear consensus around the best ways to foster and scale new ideas.
Recently, I had the opportunity to have a long discussion with Bill Gates, and our conversation naturally turned to what inspires innovation. Bill and his wife Melinda launched their foundationin 1994 and since that time they have transformed the world’s development aspirations in health, education and poverty reduction.
I was one of the lucky beneficiaries of the Gates’ generosity. In 2000, their Foundation made a $44.7 million grant to Partners In Health, which I co-founded. At a time when most of the global health world was in denial about multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB), the Gates made the largest single tuberculosis-related foundation gift in history in order to find ways to treat this disease in developing countries. This pattern of visionary, innovative philanthropy has been repeated again and again in their efforts to tackle some of the greatest challenges of the 21st century.
I’m a big believer in setting highly ambitious targets in order to galvanize communities and countries to take action on serious issues. When I was at the World Health Organization in 2003, we set a target called “3 x 5” – committing to treat 3 million people with HIV/AIDS in the developing world by 2005.
At the time, just a few hundred thousand people in the developing world had access to the life-saving treatment. When we announced the target, the global health community was still arguing about whether HIV treatment in poor countries was possible. Some called it an impossible dream that would give people false hope.
I responded that no one ever said treating 3 million people would be easy. But we needed a measurable and time-limited target to change fundamentally the way we thought about the challenges of HIV in developing countries. The target helped change the way we worked – we had fewer arguments about if we should do it, and focused on how to get it done.