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Opinion: The world is falling behind in the fight against poverty and disease. Here’s what we need to do

Editor’s note: Mark Suzman is the CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Guided by the belief that every life has equal value, the foundation strives to help all people lead healthy lives and reach their full potential. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own.

The first two decades of the 21st century have provided more progress for more people than perhaps any other period in human history. Deaths malaria, HIV and tuberculosis have been halved. Child deaths dropped dramatically. Poliomyelitis has been almost eradicated. And the global poverty rate reduced by nearly three-quarters.

Since the Covid-19 pandemic, many of these trends have changed for the worse. Each year, our foundation publishes the Guardians reportwhich measures the world’s progress in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals that UN member states agreed to in 2015. And according to this year’s report, to achieve most of the goals by 2030, we will need to dramatically accelerate rhythm.

Why? If you ask six experts to name the biggest crisis facing the world today, you might get six different answers: Geopolitical conflict. Food insecurity. Climate change. Gender inequality. Learning loss. Infectious disease. And they would all be right.

At the Gates Foundation, we believe it is possible, and imperative, to invest in long-term, sustainable action, especially after two years of conflict, pandemic, and polarization. At the UN General Assembly meeting, governments and donors should prioritize solutions that will help the most vulnerable today and have lasting impact for years to come.

This is an extremely fragile time for the world. Some of the poorest countries face excessive external debt. Rising inflation has affected virtually every country, reducing countries’ purchasing power and forcing difficult financial trade-offs. An alarming number of people, especially women, suffer from hunger around the world. Many countries are withdrawing from development assistance that helps strengthen long-term health and food systems in low- and middle-income countries. Some have redirected funds from these priorities to address crises in their countries.

Humanitarian aid is essential. Yet if short-term financing means neglecting long-term investments, health emergencies and food shortages will become even more frequent and intense.

The success of organizations like the Global Fund, an international funding and partnership organization that invests billions a year to fight infectious diseases such as HIV, malaria and tuberculosis, shows how valuable long-term investment is. Over the past two decades, health programs supported by the fund have saved 50 million lives through prevention and treatment. And thanks to generous commitments from countries like Japan, Germany and the United States, the Global Fund will continue to strengthen health systems and save millions more lives. Over the next week, our foundation will announce new financial commitments to help accelerate progress towards the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals – from our commitment to the Global Fund to new investments in food and nutrition security.

While the Goalkeepers report details real setbacks in areas such as gender equality and food security, it also highlights some of the most important investments that can be made right now. For example, Melinda French Gates writes about effective ways to unlock women’s economic power and resilience, including expanding access to digital financial tools like mobile accounts that put money in women’s hands, giving them more control over their money than cash payments. We can also build and strengthen care infrastructure, so women can earn an income outside the home and entrepreneurs can run their own childcare businesses.

In food security, Bill Gates sheds light on agricultural innovations, from crops more resilient to drought and flooding to the “Agriculture Adaptation Atlas,” a new data visualization tool that predicts escalating impact of climate change on agriculture and can help determine what crops to plant, and where.

If we work together, we can ensure that these types of solutions reach as many people as possible, as soon as possible. Hunger, disease and inequality are problems without borders, and every sector has a role to play in solving them. Solutions can come from anywhere: from the most advanced laboratories and from the most remote communities.

Progress will take on a new level of collaboration, investment and innovation. But together, we can build a world where everyone can reach their full potential, no matter who they are or where they live.