If we want to change the story of the human race in the 21st century then we have to change the stories we tell ourselves


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15th February 2024

Heart disease is the top cause of death in the United States, but progress is being made, and millions of lives are being saved. The American Heart Association just released its new report showing that the country has cut heart disease death rates by 70% since 1950 and stroke death rates by nearly a third since 1998.

A ton of good news on malaria this week. Cameroon and Burkina Faso have begun their rollouts of the RTS vaccine (nearly 10,000 children have already been vaccinated), Benin just took delivery of 215,900 doses, Cambodia has announced that it's on track for malaria elimination by 2025, and another trial of the R21 vaccine in four African countries has shown that it's safe and extremely effective.

After several months of intense negotiations, the EU has reached a historic agreement on a new law that addresses gender-based violence, female genital mutilation, forced marriages, and online harassment across all member states. 'Today, we take the first step towards making Europe the first continent in the world to eradicate violence against women.' Nadja

On Monday, for the first time on Polish TV, and after eight years of a far-right government, LGBT+ activists appeared on a live broadcast in which the interviewer began by apologising after years of bigotry. Please watch this. In the 1980s, Poland led the world out of its totalitarian Soviet nightmare, and in the 2020s, it might just show us the way again.

France’s lower house of parliament has overwhelmingly approved a measure to enshrine abortion as a 'guaranteed freedom' in the constitution. 'Tonight, the assembly didn’t miss its rendezvous with the history of women and with history in general.' Guardian

Cambodia has spent $1.4 billion to help more than 1.43 million families and 360,000 pregnant women since 2019. It's made a big difference—the UNDP says the poverty rate declined to 16.6% in 2022 from 36.7% in 2014, and the number of poor people was halved from 5.6 million to 2.8 million. Khmer Times

The next time someone uses 'globalists' as a slur, you might want to show them this list of WHO projects: malaria elimination in Cabo Verde, community health in Panama, dengue control in Paraguay, Guinea worm eradication in Angola, HIV care in Cameroon, success against hepatitis B in Maldives and Sri Lanka, and fighting back against cholera outbreaks in Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Clockwise from top left: health workers in Cabo Verde, HIV care in Cameroon, Hepatitis B immunization in Sri Lanka, Guinea Worm eradication in Angola, dengue control in Paraguay, cholera treatment centres in Zimbabwe.

The Asian Development Bank has approved a $419.6 million loan to expand access to sanitation in the cities of Mataram, Pontianak, and Semarang. The project will strengthen sanitation systems for approximately 2.5 million people, based on an inclusive sanitation principle which aims to ensure access citywide.

Last year, Ghana doubled cash benefits for its poorest households and is set to do so again in 2024, increasing coverage to 12% of household consumption. The recent budget also includes a big boost for school meal programs, as well as a 40% increase for the National Health Insurance Authority to cover medical claims, essential medicines, and vaccines for the most vulnerable. IMF

In 2019, India launched a national program to combat air pollution in 131 cities. Since then around half of the cities for which data are available have seen improvements. This includes Delhi, which saw a 5.9% decline in PM2.5 levels from 2019 to 2023, Bengaluru (2%), Hyderabad (7%), Kolkata (16.9%), Patna (25.2%), Chennai (33.4%), and Lucknow (41.2%). New India Express

Be nice to Boomers, people, they've got it tough. At age 36-40, Millennials had a real median household income that was 18% higher than that of the previous generation at the same age... holding work hours constant, they experienced a greater intergenerational increase in real market income than Baby Boomers. US Federal Reserve

'Your generation has it easy' Credit: Federal Reserve (2024)
Even more good news you didn't hear about

The first endometriosis drug in four decades is now on the horizon. It looks like a safe and effective dengue vaccine is imminent too. Despite a national spike in homelessness, some regions in the United States are finding solutions. By the time this newsletter goes to press, there's a good chance Greece might have legalized same-sex marriage. Zimbabwe has abolished the death penalty, a practice introduced by British colonial administrators. A sex education bus has reached over 5,000 teens in Honduras, and it's just getting started. 95,000 people just got access to clean drinking water in Mauritania. The adult literacy rate in Tanzania has risen to 83% from 78.1% in the past decade. Poverty is plummeting in Bangladesh, thanks to a much better social safety net. Ecuador's highest court has decriminalised euthanasia. The United States reduced its backlog of immigration cases last year, after processing an unprecedented 10 million cases. Last year the FDA approved 55 novel therapeutics, the second-highest total in 30 years. Young people in the United Kingdom are drinking way less. In the 1980s, the average lifespan of a person with Down syndrome was 25 years. Today it's over 60. For people with disabilities in Kansas, a big win.

8th February 2024

Europe is slowly winning the war on cancer. New research shows a decline in cancer mortality rates of 6.5% among men and 4.3% among women between 2018 and 2024 (estimated). An estimated 6.2 million cancer deaths have now been avoided in the EU and 1.3 million in the United Kingdom since 1988. Annals of Oncology

Age-standardized cancer mortality rate trends from 1970 to 2019 and predicted rates for 2024 with 95% prediction intervals, for all cancers combined and both sexes (left) and for major cancer sites in men (center) and women (right), in the EU.

Zambia’s parliament has passed landmark legislation setting the marriageable age at 18, without exception, for all marriages, including customary marriages, representing a significant step in the nation’s commitment to eradicating child marriage. This is a big deal for a country that is home to a staggering 1.7 million child brides, 400,000 of whom were married before age 15. Equality Now

Zimbabwe has raised the age of consent from 16 to 18 years, with violators now liable to spend up to ten years in jail. Data suggest that over a third of girls experience sexual violence before the age of 18.'This will contribute to a reduction of sexual abuse of children, which continues to be a concern in Zimbabwe.' Herald

Senegal just installed a new water pipeline that will bring clean drinking water to 100,000 households on the outskirts of Mbacké, the country's most populous city, and in Mozambique, aid agencies just provided funding for an expansion of water and sanitation services to at least 325,000 people, as well as 90 schools and clinics. 

Mexico is getting a handle on crime after some of the most violent years in its history. Homicides dropped by 4.18% in 2023, marking the third consecutive year of decline; rates of femicide have dropped by 38.6% under the current government; and the last 12 months have also seen declines in human trafficking (39.3%), financial crimes (25.9%), and organized crime (16.8%). La Prensa Latina

Secretary of Security and Civil Protection, Rosa Icela Rodríguez, presenting data on crime in 2023. These numbers refer to the average number of murders per day.

In India, the number of women enrolling in higher education increased by 32% between 2015 and 2022, from 15.7 million to over 20 million. There has also been a notable increase in enrolment across all levels of education for female students from scheduled castes, increasing from 21 million in 2015 to 31 million in 2022. Economic Times

Parisians voted in a referendum last Sunday in favour of subjecting large SUVs to a threefold increase in parking charges as the French capital presses on with long-term plans to become a fully bikeable city. The new measure will triple parking fees for cars of 1.6 tonnes and more to 18 euros an hour in order to discourage 'bulky, polluting' cars. Reuters

Parking reform is only partly about parking. Over the past decade, US cities like Minneapolis, San Francisco, and Austin have eliminated parking space mandates in order to reduce car dependency, create public and green spaces, and lower housing costs. Reducing cars delivers big benefits for cities—parking occupies a double-digit share of land in most metro areas. Yale360

Older Americans are now significantly less lonely than they were three years ago; a recent peer-reviewed study reports that middle-aged Americans describe themselves as less lonely than 20 years ago, and while loneliness is more pervasive among younger Americans, there too, the rates have also plummeted since 2020.

In a landmark ruling that could significantly impact reproductive rights in Pennsylvania, the state's Supreme Court has declared the 1982 Abortion Control Act, which barred Medicaid from covering most abortions, as unconstitutional. The court’s decision, issued last week, underscores the fundamental right to reproductive autonomy and serves as a victory for advocates of abortion rights.

Poland's new ruling coalition is looking to undo the restrictive measures on the morning-after pill that the previous government introduced in 2017; in El Salvador, a victory for women who were jailed under the country’s draconian anti-abortion laws, the result of the tireless work of Salvadoran feminist movements. 

New research has shown that the FDA's approval of over-the-counter emergency contraception had an unintended but positive side effect for America’s hospitals. Emergency rooms saw 96% fewer visits from women seeking emergency contraception after the morning-after pill became easily available to adults in 2006. JAMA

Data from 2006 to 2020 from the Nationwide Emergency Department Sample, a database of 2,006,582,771 weighted US ED visits. Source: Vogt, Chibber, Jiang et al. (2024)

Gun violence experienced the largest decline on record in the United States last year (why is this not a bigger story?). Starting this month, 45 companies in Germany are testing a four-day workweek. Madagascar is starting to take serious steps towards controlling a parasitic disease called porcine cysticercosis. Lebanon's parliament has agreed to consider a landmark law to prevent child marriage. New York is buying up millions of dollars of medical debt in an effort to help as many as half a million people. Austin gave poor families a basic income for a year and it changed their lives. Cambodia just completed its largest-ever government-led mass dog vaccination campaign. All major sectors of the US economy have now seen employment fully recover from the pandemic. Cameroon used to have 12 students for every textbook in 2016; it had three textbooks for every two students in 2023. The South American nation of Guyana is getting close to eliminating filaria, leprosy, and other 'neglected diseases.' The number of teens in America who have tried smoking has decreased fourfold since the 1990s (rebellion just ain't what it used to be).

1st February 2024

In 2008, India recorded over 33,000 cases of a brutal disease called visceral leishmaniasis (black fever). Left untreated, 95% of cases are fatal. In 2023, provisional government data showed just 520 cases nationwide, putting India on the verge of becoming the second country to eliminate this disease. DW

France’s top court has struck down large parts of a divisive new immigration law that was passed in parliament with the backing of the far right, ruling that the measures go against the Constitution. The top court also threw out a deeply divisive measure that made it harder for immigrants to bring their families to France. France24

Women in Türkiye can now use their own surnames after marriage, following a decision by the Constitutional Court to abolish a restrictive provision in the Turkish Civil Code. 'Saying that a married woman must take her husband’s surname, and the child take their father’s surname is lending official support to the patriarchy.' duvaR

In the United States, 21.3 million people have signed up for an Obamacare plan during the enrolment period this year, including more than five million people—about a fourth—who did so for the first time. Four in five of all customers were able to find health care insurance for $10 or less per month after subsidies. CMS

José Andrés and World Central Kitchen always seem to find a way. They just announced they've served over 22 million meals in Gaza. They've been able to dispatch over 800 trucks to the area and set up 27 kitchens and over 750 clean cooking stoves.


Between 2000 and 2020, the Lao maternal mortality rate fell by over 250%, one of the largest reductions in the world. It's primarily thanks to the work of midwives, who provide critical sexual and reproductive health services and support their patients through labour and delivery, family planning decision making, and the pursuit of rights and choices. UNFPA

'It’s rare to see such fast, decisive action on a major health problem—and impressive to see it immediately rewarded with such a dramatic improvement in blood lead levels and health outcomes. It’s a reminder that things can change, and can change very quickly, as long as people care, and as long as they act': how Bangladesh removed lead from turmeric and saved lives. Vox

In 2023, Colombia trialled a new model for improving maternal healthcare in 16 territories. An analysis of those territories showed a 16% reduction in the maternal mortality rate during the first six months of the year, so the Ministry of Health has now adopted the strategy nationwide. Think Global Health

Zimbabwe has launched a massive house-to-house vaccination campaign to curb the spread of cholera. The target is to vaccinate 2.3 million people in the most affected districts. Each vaccination team is composed of three people, expected to vaccinate an average of 150 persons per day. UNICEF

Workers unload the first batch of 900,000 oral cholera vaccines at the Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport on Saturday, 27th January 2024. Credit: Tanaka Ziyavaya

A working-class victory is on the horizon in Colombia, after a labour reform law advanced to a second round of legislative debates. The bill will not only restore labour rights that were rescinded two decades ago by a far-right government, it will go a step further and expand these rights, increasing overtime pay, expanding social security for delivery workers, and strengthening workplace rights.

The Seychelles has the best education system in Africa. At least 9% of the country's budget is allocated to education, and it has met all six of UNESCO's goals, achieving a 50% improvement in adult literacy, ensuring universal access to primary education, and achieving gender equality in education. Fair Planet

Kenya has a major project underway to improve wastewater management and water supplies across the country, and it's working. This month, President Ruto has inaugurated two major clean water schemes—one serving 200,000 people in Trans-Nzoia county and another in Busia County serving 173,624 people. Afrik21

Last year, Türkiye suffered its worst earthquakes in nearly a century, exacting a devastating economic, physical, and human toll. A year on, reconstruction and recovery work is in full swing. Damaged or collapsed infrastructure is being rebuilt, tens of thousands of classrooms constructed, and record investments are pouring in.

The removal of rubble from buildings heavily damaged by the 6th February 2023 quakes continues in Kahramanmaraş, southern Türkiye, 25th January 2024. Source: AA Photo

24th January 2024

The world's first mass vaccination campaign for children against malaria was launched in Cameroon on Monday. It will distribute 25 million doses to combat the disease, which causes over 600,000 deaths globally per year. 'We are not just witnessing, but actively participating in a transformative chapter in African public health history.' Guardian

Despite persistent efforts by the tobacco industry, humanity is steadily breaking one of its worst habits. A new report from the WHO indicates that 150 countries are reducing tobacco use, around 1 in 5 adults worldwide now consume tobacco compared to 1 in 3 in 2000, and there are 19 million fewer smokers than there were just two years ago.

The American Cancer Society just released its annual report showing that fewer Americans are dying of cancer, part of a decades-long trend that began in the 1990s. Cancer mortality is down 33% in the past three decades, saving an estimated 4.1 million lives, and as many as two-thirds of all cancers can now be treated as chronic conditions or cured outright.

We've said it before, and we'll say it again and again—the HPV vaccine is a bloody miracle. In case anyone needed reminding, a new analysis from Scotland shows that there hasn't been a single case of cervical cancer in women who were vaccinated at 12 or 13 years of age. Exactly what was expected, but nevertheless fantastic news. JNCI

School lunches are Brazil's secret weapon against hunger. At all public schools, children are provided meals for free under a government-run program that feeds more than 40 million students from daycare through high school across 5,570 municipalities, ensuring all children stay nourished and engaged in their education. NPR

The share of India’s population living in multidimensional poverty has fallen to 11.28% in 2022-23 from 29.17% in 2013-14, according to NITI Aayog, the country's apex public policy think tank. Researchers estimate that a total of 248 million people have escaped multidimensional poverty in the last nine years. How is this not front page news around the world?

The world's biggest cities are getting cleaner. Deutsche Welle analysed data on PM2.5 levels for megacities with populations over 10 million. Of the 25 with available data, 21 improved their air pollution levels between 2017 and 2022. 'This is something that's resonating across all regions of the world right now, and it's really exciting.'

In the last few years sub-Saharan Africa has made substantial strides toward digital transformation, with over 160 million people gaining broadband internet access between 2019 and 2022. There's still a long, long way to go—but this is encouraging progress. World Bank

Germany's government just injected some good sense into its immigration debate. On January 18th and 19th it passed two immigration bills. The first, pleasing to conservatives, will make it easier to expel asylum-seekers with dubious cases; the second, more significant, law will make it easier for legitimate immigrants to gain German nationality. Economist

During 2023, violent crime plummeted to its lowest level in the United States since the 1960s, and by the end of the year inflation had been tamed and unemployment was at historic lows. In surveys, most Americans still say crime is rising and the economy is struggling, but they’re wrong. Call it the Great Normalization: the twin crises evaporated, and no one is totally sure why. Atlantic

South Africa may have finally turned the corner on HIV as prevalence among pregnant women has dropped to its lowest in two decades. Over the last ten years, the six countries of the Greater Mekong have made remarkable progress towards malaria elimination. In the US, 21 states have abolished the practice of court fines for juveniles. Iran's literacy rate reached 97% in 2023, up from less than 50% in the 1970s. Thai lawmakers have taken a big step forward towards improving air quality. Egypt just amended its laws to include more chances to appeal in criminal cases, a 'victory for human rights.' The US government is forgiving another $4.9 billion in student debt for 73,600 borrowers. The Maldives and Sri Lanka have achieved hepatitis B control, meaning consistent vaccination rates over 90%. No, the maternal mortality rate in the United States is not rising; it's actually on par with those of Canada and France. Since 2014, over 5,000 schools in Ethiopia have been equipped with water, sanitation, and hygiene facilities. In Kenya, 200,000 people just gained access to clean drinking water. California has enacted a law that makes it easier for out-of-state doctors to get experience in reproductive medicine. How Utah is solving the problem of literacy for third graders.

18th January 2024

Cape Verde, an island nation off the coast of West Africa, has become the first sub-Saharan African country to be declared malaria-free in 50 years. The WHO confirmed there have been no cases of local transmission in three years, thanks to a decades-long effort to strengthen its health systems and increase access to diagnosis and treatment. BBC

Eastern and Southern Africa have achieved gender parity in primary education, with 25 million more girls enrolled in primary school in the region today than in the early 2000s. There's still a long way to go: not as many girls complete high school as boys (although the gap is narrowing), and labour force participation is still dramatically unequal, but progress is happening. World Bank

The Canadian Cancer Society has a new report on progress in the fight against cancer, the country's number-one cause of death. Age-standardised mortality rates have decreased by 39% in males and 26% in females since their peak in 1988, and the rate of decline has accelerated since 2016, particularly for lung, bladder, and colorectal cancer, as well as Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Analysis by the Centre for Population Health Data, Statistics Canada Data. Source: Canadian Vital Statistics Death Database at Statistics Canada

Yes, everything in America is awful, apart from the fact that 21 million kids will get free lunches this summer; 22 states just increased their minimum wage, which will benefit 9.9 million workers; inflation is well and truly over (seriously); more than 40% of the population now lives in states that are dedicated to 100% clean energy; Obamacare enrolments are surging in southern states; blue collar jobs are booming and all other major sectors of the economy except for leisure and hospitality have seen job numbers fully recover from COVID; the IRS has collected half a billion dollars in back taxes from delinquent millionaires since 2022; soda taxes in five cities are working better than expected; millions of people just got access to cheaper insulin; the proportion of Texans living in poverty is declining; California has a new law allowing parents who experience miscarriage and stillbirth to take leave from work; trans people are finding refuge in upstate New York; a new FDA rule allowing gay and bisexual men to give blood is making donations more inclusive; Minneapolis has figured out the right way to help people experiencing homelessness; Illinois recently implemented a raft of progressive laws, including a ban on dozens of rifles and handguns; and the federal government just issued a pardon to every American who has ever used marijuana.

Vietnam made big reductions in poverty last year. Its National Office for Poverty Reduction reported a multidimensional poverty rate of 2.93% at the end of 2023, a 1.1 percentage point decrease from 2022. The poverty rate declined by over 5.6 percentage points in impoverished districts to approximately 33%, and in ethnic-minority areas, it dropped to nearly 18%. Vietnam+

Sanitation is coming to Tanzania. Between October 2018 and April 2023, over 4.7 million people gained access to improved water supplies, 6.6 million people gained access to improved sanitation facilities, 594 villages achieved community-wide sanitation status, and 1,904 healthcare facilities and 1,095 primary schools installed improved sanitation and hand-washing facilities. World Bank

Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis’s plan to legalise same-sex marriage and allow adoption for LGBTQ+ couples obtained crucial backing from the opposition last week. Legislation is now set to be approved by Parliament, despite backlash from the Orthodox Church. 'We are going to legislate equality in marriage, which means elimination of discrimination based on sexual orientation.' Euro News

People participate in Athens Pride in Athens, Greece, 10 June 2023. Photo: EPA-EFE/Alexander Beltes

Road traffic kills way more people than war, and is the leading cause of death for young people aged 5 to 29 years. However, humanity is making progress. There were an estimated 1.19 million road traffic deaths in 2021, a 5% drop from 1.25 million deaths in 2010. This happened despite the global motor vehicle fleet more than doubling, and the global population rising by a billion in the same period.

Quite literally proving the adage that 'the news doesn't report the planes that land,' did you know that in 2023 there were no major fatal accidents involving large turbofan-powered commercial aircraft? That makes it the safest year in aviation history. Gotta be worth a headline somewhere, right? Wrong. Simple Flying

A road construction project linking Ivory Coast and Liberia is set to provide an economic lifeline for over 900,000 farmers; a wastewater management project in Vietnam is set to improve water quality and wastewater treatment for half a million people in the province of Binh Duong; and a sanitation project in Tamil Nadu in India will improve water and sewerage for over 2 million people.

Relief may be in sight for consumers. The FAO's food price index, which tracks prices of cereals, vegetable oils, sugar, meats, and dairy, fell 10% last year, the biggest annual decline since 2015, and there are signs that lower wholesale food prices are starting to feed through to supermarket shelves around the world. Bloomberg 🎁

Joe Stiglitz on inflation: time for a victory lap? US-China relations are stabilising, but that's not nearly as newsworthy as when they're shaky. The Global Vaccine Alliance just authorised $1.8 billion for vaccine manufacturing in Africa, for catching up missed vaccinations, and for future pandemic preparedness. The WHO has added the R21 malaria vaccine to its list of prequalified vaccines, opening up further avenues for support and distribution. A law extending marriage and adoption rights to same-sex couples in Estonia just took effect, and Israel's Supreme Court has ruled that LGBTQ couples can adopt. Free bus passes are transforming the lives of millions of women in India. In a major shift, more women than men were employed as associates at US law firms in 2023. Zimbabwe is on the cusp of becoming the next African country to eliminate the death penalty. Not all heroes wear capes: check out these amazing kids in Yemen.

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