Digging the pit for a latrine in Zambia

Solutions to some of the world’s development problems are surprisingly simple.  They are typically inexpensive.  Finally, they are relatively easy to implement.  Why, then, you ask, are they not more widely applied?  That will prove the question of the century.  The answer to it will be the epiphany of the century. 

When you get on the ground in developing world communities, the first impression is how intractable the problems are.  Not enough calories.  No healthcare.  No sanitation.  Poor access to water.  Poor education.  Few vocational opportunities. 

Let’s consider those the six basic necessities of economic development:  Nutrition.  Health.  Sanitation. Water. Education. And vocation.  We can think of them like the eight amino acids that need to be present for a protein to form.  If any one of them is missing, the protein doesn’t form.  If any of the six basic necessities are missing, it is hard for development to occur.  Consider the simplest example. 

Billions of children are not vaccinated against the most common childhood diseases.  We know the names of those diseases.  Cholera.  Diphtheria.  Typhoid.  Tetanus.  Yellow fever…  To us they are medical textbook curiosities, because we’ve all had the vaccinations.  But to a community that hasn’t had them, they will spend the whole of their childhood in sickness, contagion, and even death.

The vaccination against the 11 most common of these diseases costs about $3, and is available through the World Health Organization.  The Nepal Ministry of Health estimates that applying the vaccination at birth averts $3,000 in lifetime costs, including lost productivity.  A $3,000 return on a $3 investment.  1,000-to-1. 

Similar, though not quite as dramatic returns exist with the other five necessities.  In future posts we’ll examine how such returns can be secured for what are relatively miniscule investments. 

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