Bill Gates gave the PHE community a much-needed upgrade in his foundation’s 2nd Annual Letter, released this week. Unfortunately it still has a few bugs.
“In the long run, not spending on health is a bad deal for the environment because improvements in health, including voluntary family planning, lead people to have smaller families, which in turn reduces the strain on the environment,” concludes Gates.
This statement could dramatically raise awareness of and funding for population-environment programs. Any time Bill Gates talks, the world listens, as evidenced by the barrage of coverage from Reuters, AFP, and top IT newswires. For the public, it offers a rare glimpse into development strategy, so Gates’ thoughts (and financial commitments) could be seen as representative of the foundation community’s approach to global health problems.
Gates’ comment may cause those in the first camp to re-evaluate the importance of family planning, and it is likely to energize the converted. But it will have less impact on those focused on consumption. But if it encourages the environmental community to put population and family planning issues back on the table, it will have gone a long way.
Because Gates didn’t make these explicit connections, many in the media missed his point. The wire headlines pit health against environment, when Gates was in fact pointing out how interdependent they are. This distortion is symptomatic of the media’s tendency to highlight the horserace. But maybe they would pay closer attention if the Gates Foundation put its money where its mouth is—and funded programs that integrate family planning and the environment.
Perhaps several years from now, we will look back and say that this letter marks the start of the Gates Foundation’s integrated approach to development. But we may need to wait for Letter 3.0 for a complete install.