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The 2015 Bill and Melinda Gates Letter:

In which John discusses the prospect of dramatic improvements in the lives of the world's poorest people, his favorite letter of the year (sorry Bill My Insurance Agent!), how to decrease infant mortality, and how to listen better to voices that are poorly represented online.

Also, lots of graphs! Everyone loves graphs!
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Good morning Hank, it's Tuesday.

So Bill and Melinda Gates's annual letter just came out, and it really is my favorite letter of the year...with apologies to the birthday card I get every year from my insurance agent. 

You should read the whole thing, link below. But it predicts that in the next 15 years, the lives of the world's poorest people will become dramatically better.

All right. So even though hundreds of millions of people have emerged from absolute poverty in the last 25 years, and even though child mortality has been cut by half, and even though more kids than ever have access to vaccinations, we still kind of live in two worlds.

In one world, fewer than 1% of kids die before the age of 5, almost no one gets malaria, very few children are denied access to vaccines because of lack of refrigeration, and serious malnutrition in children is extremely uncommon.

And then, we have the other world. In that one, 1.5 million kids die every year from diseases that could be easily prevented by vaccines. There are like 200 million cases of malaria every year, and more than 25% of kids are stunted due to malnutrition, which can lead to cognitive problems and all kinds of other health issues.

And in this world, kids are far less likely to go to school, or to learn how to read, especially if they're girls. And all of that is totally unacceptable. It's also unnecessary.

So global child mortality has dropped by half in the last 25 years, and the Gates letter argues that in the next 15 years, it can drop by half again. And this is achievable without expensive specialists or new medical procedures. How?

First, breast feeding. Infants who are breastfed for 6 months are 14 times more likely to survive. Second, access to cheap injectable antibiotics, which could save 300,000 kids a year. Then you've got inexpensive hand-pumped oxygen masks, which could prevent a third of infant deaths. Fourth, drying the baby and offering skin-to-skin contact to keep it warm. And lastly, keeping the umbilical cord free from infection. This can actually be done with an ingredient found in my mouthwash. Literally.

Before moving on here, quick reminder that cutting infant mortality does not lead to population explosions in the long run. In fact, quite the opposite.

The Gates letter also talks about a bunch of other investments and innovations that will improve the lives of poor people, like access to mobile banking and better farming practices and online education tools. And I just wanna imagine for a moment what that world would look like.

Enough food would be produced in Africa to feed every African. The 2.5 billion people without a bank account would be able to save and dramatically simplify their economic lives with access to mobile banking. Girls would have far better educational opportunities, dramatically reducing the gender gap in literacy. Polio, river blindness, and guinea worm diseases that kill or disable tens of millions of people wouldn't even exist anymore. And half the kids who are gonna die today would not die.

In short, the world's people would be healthier, and better educated, and more productive. And that would be good for all of us, because here's the thing: we do not actually live in two worlds. It sometimes feels like we do, not just because no one in my neighborhood has kids who are stunted due to malnutrition, but because no one I follow on Tumblr or Twitter or Instagram has kids who are.

Hank, the reach of my online life can feel infinite, but it isn't. And that inevitably creates an empathy gap. As Bill and Melinda put it in the letter, there is overwhelming evidence that people care about others who are suffering when they can see that suffering.

But too often we can't see it, not because people in the developing world are silent, but because we're not good at listening to them. We're far better at listening to voices that feel closer, that we can find on Tumblr or Twitter--people who feel like "us." 

But the way we imagine us must include people living in poverty, because there is just the one world. And when we start to pay attention to problems that seem distant and foreign, we often find that they actually aren't. They're human problems; they're us problems.

Hank, I think the coolest thing about the Gates letter this year is that they give us the opportunity to learn to listen better and more broadly by signing up to be something they call a Global Citizen.

The idea is that if we become more informed about the issues facing people around the world, we will naturally become more engaged. I think that's brilliant, and I hope it allows me, at least, to learn to listen better. So I hope you'll join me in signing up, link in the doobley-doo.

Hank, by the way, I also hope that we're still making videos in 15 years so we can discuss which of the Gates letter predictions came true and which didn't.

But before then--in fact, significantly before then--I will see you on Friday.