The Case for Optimism

From technology to equality, five ways the world is getting better all the time

  • Illustration by Oliver Munday for TIME

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    Similar stories are happening in Africa. Only 4% of households in Africa have Internet access, but more than 50% have cell phones. Because counterfeit medications are a huge problem in sub-Saharan Africa, a CGI member created a company called Sproxil, which lets people in Africa (and now India) use cell phones to text a code on any medication they have to see if it's counterfeit. Ericsson--with the U.N., big investment firm Delta Partners and an NGO called Refugees United--is helping families that have become separated because of conflict reunite using cell phones.

    Smart phones help restart the lives of many individuals, but they also help millions of individuals help restart the lives of others. We've seen how technological advances have democratized charitable giving as never before, allowing people to make a difference even if they don't have much time or money to give. The 2004 South Asian tsunami was the first natural disaster in which huge numbers of people who were poor or of modest means gave a little of their money because they could use global communication networks to do it. For example, Americans gave $1.92 billion toward tsunami relief, with a median contribution of $50. When the earthquake hit Haiti, Americans also gave a billion dollars, but that time the median was even lower, because by then cell-phone technology had enabled people to give as little as $5 or $10 simply by texting their favored charity.

    2 HEALTH


    While governments, the private sector and foundations have long worked to combat major health crises, innovative partnerships among these three sectors have led to greater advancements in building lasting health systems in poor countries than any of those groups could have made on its own. Working together in innovative ways results in an exponential increase in the good they all can do.

    When my foundation began working to address the AIDS crisis in 2002, only 230,000 people in the developing world were getting treatment with lifesaving but expensive antiretroviral medicines. Today, in part because the pharmaceutical industry moved from being a low-volume, high-margin business to a low-margin, high-volume one with guaranteed payments, that number is 8 million. A recent study found that with the exception of South Africa, treatment now costs on average just $200 per patient per year, and that number includes the cost of drugs, diagnostic tests, personnel and other outpatient costs. All of these savings have been achieved while also improving the profitability of the drug companies.

    So the good news is that we're winning the global fight against HIV/AIDS. With the help of government-funded programs like UNAIDS and the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which I think was President George W. Bush's finest foreign policy achievement, together with the work of NGOs like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and companies like Coca-Cola, the idea of an AIDS-free generation has become a tangible goal rather than a dream.

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