For the first time, in November of 2022, our planet reached a population of 8 billion people. This milestone seemed to happen with relatively little fanfare. But it is important to reflect on how we got here and where we go next, especially as populations continue to grow.
Science and technology have played critical roles in both improving the lives of Earth’s inhabitants and preventing the world’s population from growing at an even faster rate than it already is. And yet, despite these triumphs, we continue to face challenges—namely climate change and gender inequities—that impede human development. However, upon closer examination, we are also presented with countless opportunities to create positive impact and improve the quality of life of our fellow 8 billion inhabitants.
Getting to a global population of 8 billion is a triumph of science and technology. On the one hand, without the use of everyday science, the path to this milestone would have been very different. Investments in basic health services, including immunisations, primary healthcare, and antibiotics, to mention a few, have allowed more people to survive infancy and health assaults throughout their lives.
I’ve seen first-hand how Palladium’s work in health sector reform, which emphasises improved access to basic services rather than exceptionally large proportions of health budgets being directed to complex, specialised health services, makes a huge difference in reducing early and unnecessary death.
Including the voices of underserved and disenfranchised populations in discussions about health needs, policies, and programs, and helping countries ensure their citizens have the information they need to make the right decisions for themselves and for their families is also improving access to healthcare around the world.
On the other hand, we can’t underestimate the role of family planning as a tool that has helped empower women to take change of their fertility – deciding for themselves whether and when to have children. Without family planning, the world’s population would have reached 8 billion far earlier than it has and millions more women and children would have died unnecessarily in the process.
Yet, there remain critical challenges that impede equity, quality of life, and progress toward achieving the Sustainable Development Goals that aim to “transform our world.” Climate change is no longer something that might happen in the future; we are living it now. Agricultural production, despite hybrid seeds that lead to higher crop yields, is failing because of weather conditions, resulting in food insecurity for billions of people globally.
Sexism and pervasive harmful gender norms also impede progress.
Limited access to education for girls stands in the way of economic opportunity, which contributes to greater autonomy, more financially secure households, and higher levels of economic growth. The many facets of gender-based violence result in demeaning human dignity while also exposing victims—and survivors—to increased risk of bodily harm and death. Child marriage, still a practice in many parts of the world, exposes girls to early and higher levels of childbearing, which results in increased risk of death and illnesses.
And discrimination toward LGBTQIA+ people can categorically exclude people from civic life and participation, which also puts them at risk of bodily harm, bullying, and social isolation.
It’s human nature, and certainly easier to focus solely on the problems without thinking about how to turn them around.
At Palladium, the focus is on achieving positive impact – making things better regardless of the challenge. Many would say that a global population of 8 billion is a problem; yet my colleagues and I see it as an opportunity to strengthen human capital so that individuals achieve their potential and countries can increase the ratio of productive adults to dependents – a population age structure that facilitates a demographic dividend which increases national development and improves the well-being of families and communities.
Climate change may be a problem on many fronts, but we continue to commit our efforts to finding creative ways to introduce innovative agriculture practices, to support policies and their implementation to eliminate child marriage and other harmful practices, to mobilise private sector funds into blended mechanisms to increase funding for health and gender programs, and ensure that all groups have a voice in the policy agenda.
It would be easy to sit back and complain about the world’s challenges, but that’s not who we are, individually or collectively. Instead, we must choose to see the birth of the world’s 8 billionth inhabitant as a chance to redouble our efforts to create positive impact.
For more, read 'What Was Health Policy Plus and Why Does it Matter' or contact email@example.com.