October GatesFoundation; As national delegations return home from New York having agreed the next stage in the global development fight, the hard work now begins. While agreeing the Sustainable Development Goals was essential to focus efforts and resources, it is only the first step in a long and difficult road. It is how we deliver these ambitions in every country that will be a far harder task.
Africa, however, starts on this journey with a spring in its step. The impressive successes in reducing poverty, tackling disease and expanding opportunity over the last 15 years has transformed perceptions of the continent. It must also give us a confidence that any challenge can be overcome.
When the Millennium Development Goals were agreed, such progress was by no means assured. But Africa – its leaders, civil society organisations and communities – responded in an extraordinary way to the challenges they set.
We have witnessed remarkable reductions in the numbers of people living in extreme poverty along with dramatic reductions in under-five and maternal mortality rates. Malaria deaths have plunged by 60 percent, saving over six million lives. The number of children in primary education has doubled.
Progress on all the MDGs, of course, has not been uniform. Nor have all countries seen such success. But the last 15 years have also taught our continent what needs to be done to achieve the best results.
Ghana, for example, has halved poverty and hunger. Ethiopia’s performance has been even more spectacular. Despite starting with some of the lowest levels of development in the world, the country is on course to meet almost all its MDGs while maintaining low levels of income inequality.
This success has been achieved, through what the Overseas Development Institute called an “uncompromising adherence to pro-poor government spending”. Around 70 per cent of all public investment has been directed, the ODI found, towards the poor.
These policies included a determination to expand education. The number of children in primary education has increased from less than half a million two decades ago to almost 22 million. Girls now outnumber boys in the country’s primary schools.
What these achievements show is the importance of Government commitment and the focusing of policy and funding on a unifying objective. It is a model we must follow as countries decide how best to drive progress across the SDGs.
Here I believe the goal of SDG 3 to “ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages” can be a key to wider development. Improving health outcomes is the cornerstone of progress, especially when you put the health of women and children at the heart of your efforts.
After all, it is only if women and children enjoy better health can they can take full advantage of educational and economic opportunities. If they do, it will deliver long-lasting and transformative benefits for their family, community and nation.
Here again, the past 15 years provide a guide as to how we can drive this progress. We now know how solutions such as vaccines can protect against childhood’s deadly diseases. We understand far better what needs to be done to reduce the numbers of women dying in child-birth.
Experience across the continent has also shown the importance of agriculture to our hopes. If we can help farmers to increase harvests and grow more nutritious crops, children have a far better chance of enjoying the healthy diet which gives them the best start in life.
It is why the MDGs have done more than just give us a great platform to build on. The lessons we have learnt on how to drive progress, the data and best practice now available and the way Africa responded to the challenges they set are also reasons for confidence. The hard work starts today but we should be optimistic that our collective efforts will be well worth it.