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January 30, 2009

Travelers for a Healthy World

Sachs
Jeffrey Sachs spoke at Condé Nast
Traveler's 2008 World Savers
Congress in New York City.

by Dinda Elliott

President Obama calls the bonuses Wall Street took last year "shameful," and there is now talk in Washington of "clawback" policies that might force some Fat Cats to give them back. For his part, Jeff Sachs, the swashbuckling global economist, crusader against poverty--and the subject of a feature in Condé Nast Traveler--has some suggestions for how we might start making up the $5 billion shortfall the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria will face if the U.S. and other governments don't step up to the plate: "Where can we find the money? Just look at Wall Street bonuses announced last week! There were $18.4 billion in Christmas bonuses in an industry that lost $35 billion last year!" he said yesterday. "If people could open their eyes to the broken promises and unbelievably egregious practices," he added, we might be able to put some of those dollars "into the mouths of those who need it."

I was listening in on a conference call briefing by global health experts, and the heads of the Global Fund (Rajat Gupta, the fund's chairman, and Peter Chernin, head of Malaria No More) phoned in from the World Economic Forum in Davos, thinking that somehow, we have to dig into our pockets despite the economic crisis. "In a global economic downturn, it's tempting to scale down global health spending," said Chernin. "That would be the worst thing we could do." We at Traveler are doing what we can.

Health initiatives are a cornerstone of the Condé Nast Traveler World Savers Awards, which honor travel companies that are helping their communities. (This year's World Savers applications are due on February 16.) But if you are wondering what you can do as an individual, please consider supporting the Five & Alive Fund, a partnership with nonprofit Population Services International, which is considered one of the most efficient (low overhead), intelligent nonprofits in the country. The Five & Alive Fund operates in more than 30 developing countries and provides safe drinking water solutions, malaria bednets and medications, and nutritional supplements to those who need them most: children under five.

A few years ago, we at Traveler realized that we could make a difference, and so in 2007, we made commitments to the Clinton Global Initiative to support the Five & Alive Fund, to expand coverage of social responsibility, and to work with the travel industry on social responsibility initiatives. We raised almost $1 million for the fund last year, thanks to our generous readers and also--in large part--to corporate supporters, founding partner Crystal Cruises, Beam Global Spirits and Wine, and a fantastic fundraiser by the Inn at Little Washington. On yesterday's call, Chernin reported that malaria-related deaths in Rwanda have gone down by some 66 percent in the last year, and that's largely because of work our partner PSI has done with the government there. Global health has huge economic ramifications, too. According to Chernin, malaria costs Africa $12 billion a year in lost productivity. "With a fraction of that investment, we can end malaria," he said. 

So my question to all of you is: Should the U.S. honor its commitments to the Global Fund and help fight for global health--despite economic hard times at home? And what can we as travelers do to promote health initiatives in the communities we visit?

Further reading:
* Jeffrey Sachs: A call for community engagement
* Dinda asks what the travel industry should do about giving back
* Donate to the Five & Alive Fund
* Make a Difference: Travel right, do good

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