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Plan a Family, Save the World

Great column from Neal Peirce in the Seattle Times.
Imagine the next president of the United States moving decisively to slow down the world's population growth as it arcs from today's 6.7 billion toward a predicted and perilous 9.2 billion by 2050. The cost to the U.S. Treasury could reach $1 billion a year. Worth it? Consider what a proactive U.S. global family-planning effort might achieve: * By moderating population growth, there'd be some lessening of catastrophic food and water shortages afflicting less-developed nations. * Global-warming dangers wouldn't rise quite so rapidly. * The rights and life prospects of millions of women around the globe might be enhanced. * Significant worldwide totals of abortions and infant deaths could be avoided. * Democracy and stability would be promoted around the world as fewer nations faced the turmoil easily triggered by high birth rates creating population "bumps" of poor and resentful youth. * With a clear, unequivocal U.S. lead, other countries and the United Nations might expand their international family-planning assistance.
As they say, read the whole thing.
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AN LTE Worth Highlighting

From today's New York Times
While I applaud "Failing the World's Poor" (editorial, Sept. 24), neither the editorial nor most of the world leaders at the United Nations who addressed the crisis in development made the connection to what we know from research and experience -- that investing in women is one of the most effective ways to advance human development. It leads to better outcomes not only for women and their families, but also for the society over all. Perhaps this is because there are only eight women heads of state among the more than 190 world leaders represented at the United Nations General Assembly. June Zeitlin Exec. Dir., Women's Environment and Development Organization New York, Sept. 24, 2008
It's true. Check out this Christian Science Monitor article about a new study which argues "as women progress in developing nations, so do those countries' economies." Read the survey,Girls Count, for more detailed data.
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Super sweet grassroots campaigns

Last week, amid the hubbub of the UN General Assembly and CGI, I received a kind invitation from Nothing But Nets to an event highlighting two worthwhile new endeavors. Along with tasty treats, the main event was the launch of Exiled, a new show on MTV that is supported by the UN Foundation and Nothing but Nets. Fans of My Super Sweet 16 will find the format familiar, but this time the, what I'll gently call "overly attended to," rich kids spend some time with local families in the developing world. Here we saw Ava, who made her entrance into her sweet 16 party on a red chaise carried by shirtless Loyola polo players, visit a Karen village in Thailand (full episode). One of her tasks was cleaning up elephant dung. I think you can see where this is going. There is humor in the disconnect, but also real value in the messaging. After seeing how the other half lives, the MTV audience is directed to ThinkMTV, where they can engage in discussion and help out directly (like by sending a $10 bed net to Africa). Although MTV executive Dave Sirulnick noted that these kinds of shows are doing well in the ratings, kudos to MTV for continuing to take the "risk" of airing them. And kudos to the widely successful Nothing But Nets campaign for continuing to engage new grassroots constituencies in their critical work.
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Commitment to refugees at CGI

By Kathy Bushkin Calvin, COO of the UN Foundation
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Today, at the closing session of the Clinton Global Initiative, the United Nations Foundation's Nothing But Nets campaign will announce a major commitment to send over 600,000 long-lasting, insecticide-treated bed nets to vulnerable refugee populations living in 27 temporary camps in East Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. This commitment will offer some critical relief to a population already ravaged by war, poverty, and famine and facing down the coming rainy season, when malaria infections skyrocket. Malaria is the largest killer of refugees, who can suffer mortality rates from the disease as high as 25 percent.
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With President Clinton in Africa: The Promise of “Health Extension Workers”

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Debra Zeit, Oromia, Ethiopia --- These young women save lives for a living. They are not nurses. They don't even have a high school education. Yet, they are professional lifesavers. How? These young women are community liaisons between the Godina Health Clinic (pictured in the background) and the rural community of Debra Zeit. In doing so, they are critical players in a new trend in global health. In developing countries like Ethiopia, the global health community's focus is starting to turn from initiatives to take on specific diseases like HIV/AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis to programs that strengthen public health infrastructures as a whole. The so-called "Health Extension Workers" that I met are at the cutting edge of this trend. As I travel throughout Africa and Mexico with President Clinton this week I'll document how the donor community (including the Clinton Foundation and the United Nations Foundation), UN agencies like UNICEF and the World Health Organization, and governments are shifting from disease-specific initiatives to strengthening public health systems. The story of the young Health Extension Workers helps explain why this shift is so important--and why tackling the scourge of HIV/AIDS, Malaria and other public health emergencies in the developing world depends on recruiting more women like these.
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Can I Have Some Hummus With That?

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Like Mediterranean food? So do people in Mediterranean countries. More and more of it these days. And, increasingly, according to a recent UN Food and Agriculture Organization study, lots of other, not-so-healthy foods as well. From the UN News Centre:
People on the shores of the Mediterranean have used higher incomes to add a large number of calories from meat and fats to a diet that was traditionally light on animal proteins. What they now eat is "too fat, too salty and too sweet," [FAO Senior Economist Josef] Schmidhuber reports. In the 40 years to 2002, daily intake in 15 European nations increased from 2,960 kilocalories to 3,340 kilocalories - about 20 per cent. But Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Cyprus and Malta, who started out poorer than the northerners, upped their calorie count by 30 per cent.
Improving economies certainly explain part of this story, as the tendency of people with more disposable income to want to eat more meat is part of a global trend -- one that, particularly in China, is contributing to rising food prices and environmental degradation. As the study soberly points out, though, high levels of obesity are also caused by people eating more and exercising less. Go figure. (Photo by Flickr user hazy jenius used under a Creative Commons license.)
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Happy World Population Day

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Today is United Nations World Population Day. This year's theme: "Family Planning: It's a Right, Let's Make it Real." Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund explains the critical nexus between maternal health, family planning and poverty alleviation

Maternal death and disability could be reduced dramatically if every woman had access to health services throughout her lifecycle, especially during pregnancy and childbirth. Today millions of women lack access to health services, which puts their lives at risk.

Now is the time to accelerate action to ensure that health services reach women in the communities in which they live. Three reproductive health services are vital for maternal health: skilled attendance at birth, emergency obstetric care and family planning to time and space births.

Family planning is also essential to women's empowerment and gender equality. When a woman can plan her family, she can plan the rest of her life. Information and services for family planning allow individuals and couples to realize their right to determine the number, spacing and timing of their children.

All true. Maternal heath is the foundation upon which other public health solutions in the developing world can emerge. Unfortunately, the United Nations says it has only received about half of the $1.2 billion necessary to provide critical maternal health and family planning services to the developing world this year. Over at On Day One, users have their own ideas on how the next American administration can promote women's health across the world. Have your say.

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Help Rotarians Eradicate Polio

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In 1988, polio paralyzed 350,000 children in 125 countries. Twenty years later, there are fewer than 1500 cases of polio around the world, and just four countries remain endemic (Afghanistan, India, Nigeria and Pakistan). How did this happen? In 1988, United Nations agencies like UNICEF and the World Health Program teamed up with the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a number of private philanthropies to form the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. The initiative has obviously been hugely successful, but it has not yet put itself out of business. So, to help give global polio eradication one final push, Rotary International (one of the founding partners of the initiative) today announced a new $100,000 campaign. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are matching the campaign dollar for dollar. $200 million may be all it takes to one and for all give polio the boot. Why not pitch in?