Bill Clinton: My wish: Rebuilding Rwanda (1)
I thought in getting up to my TED wish I would try to begin by putting in perspective what I try to do and how it fits with what they try to do.
We live in a world that everyone knows is interdependent, but insufficient in three major ways. It is, first of all, profoundly unequal: half the world's people still living on less than two dollars a day; a billion people with no access to clean water; two and a half billion no access to sanitation; a billion going to bed hungry every night; one in four deaths every year from AIDS, TB, malaria and the variety of infections associated with dirty water -- 80 percent of them under five years of age. Even in wealthy countries it is common now to see inequality growing.
In the United States, since 2001 we've had five years of economic growth, five years of productivity growth in the workplace, but median wages are stagnant and the percentage of working families dropping below the poverty line is up by four percent. The percentage of working families without health care up by four percent. So this interdependent world which has been pretty good to most of us -- which is why we're all here in Northern California doing what we do for a living, enjoying this evening -- is profoundly unequal. It is also unstable. Unstable because of the threats of terror, weapons of mass destruction, the spread of global disease and a sense that we are vulnerable to it in a way that we weren't not so many years ago. And perhaps most important of all, it is unsustainable because of climate change, resource depletion and species destruction. When I think about the world I would like to leave to my daughter and the grandchildren I hope to have, it is a world that moves away from unequal, unstable, unsustainable interdependence to integrated communities -- locally, nationally and globally -- that share the characteristics of all successful communities: a broadly shared, accessible set of opportunities, a shared sense of responsibility for the success of the common enterprise and a genuine sense of belonging.
All easier said than done. When the terrorist incidents occurred in the United Kingdom a couple of years ago, I think even though they didn't claim as many lives as we lost in the United States on 9/11, I think the thing that troubled the British most was that the perpetrators were not invaders, but homegrown citizens whose religious and political identities were more important to them than the people they grew up with, went to school with, worked with, shared weekends with, shared meals with. In other words, they thought their differences were more important than their common humanity. It is the central psychological plague of humankind in the 21st century. Into this mix, people like us, who are not in public office, have more power to do good than at any time in history, because more than half the world's people live under governments they voted in and can vote out.
And even non-democratic governments are more sensitive to public opinion. Because primarily of the power of the Internet, people of modest means can band together and amass vast sums of money that can change the world for some public good if they all agree. When the tsunami hit South Asia, the United States contributed 1.2 billion dollars. 30 percent of our households gave. Half of them gave over the Internet. The median contribution was somewhere around 57 dollars. And thirdly, because of the rise of non-governmental organizations. They, businesses, other citizens' groups, have enormous power to affect the lives of our fellow human beings. When I became president in 1993, there were none of these organizations in Russia. There are now a couple of hundred thousand. None in India. There are now at least a half a million active. None in China. There are now 250,000 registered with the government, probably twice again that many who are not registered for political reasons. When I organized my foundation, and I thought about the world as it is and the world that I hope to leave to the next generation, and I tried to be realistic about what I had cared about all my life that I could still have an impact on.
I wanted to focus on activities that would help to alleviate poverty, fight disease, combat climate change, bridge the religious, racial and other divides that torment the world, but to do it in a way that would either use whatever particular skills we could put together in our group to change the way some public good function was performed so that it would sweep across the world more. You saw one reference to that in what we were able to do with AIDS drugs.
And I want to say that the head of our AIDS effort, and the person who also is primarily active in the wish I'll make tonight, Ira Magaziner, is here with me and I want to thank him for everything he's done. He's over there. (Applause) When I got out of office and was asked to work, first in the Caribbean, to try to help deal with the AIDS crisis, generic drugs were available for about 500 dollars a person a year. If you bought them in vast bulks, you could get them at a little under 400 dollars. The first country we went to work in, the Bahamas, was paying 3,500 dollars for these drugs. The market was so terribly disorganized that they were buying this medicine through two agents who were gigging them sevenfold. So the very first week we were working, we got the price down to 500 dollars. And all of a sudden, they could save seven times as many lives for the same amount of money. Then we went to work with the manufacturers of AIDS medicines, one of whom was cited in the film, and negotiated a whole different change in business strategy, because even at 500 dollars, these drugs were being sold on a high-margin, low-volume, uncertain-payment basis.
So we worked on improving the productivity of the operations and the supply chain, and went to a low-margin, high-volume, absolutely certain-payment business. I joked that the main contribution we made to the battle against AIDS was to get the manufacturers to change from a jewelry store to a grocery store strategy. But the price went to 140 dollars from 500. And pretty soon, the average price was 192 dollars. Now we can get it for about 100 dollars. Children's medicine was 600 dollars, because nobody could afford to buy any of it. We negotiated it down to 190. Then, the French imposed their brilliantly conceived airline tax to create a something called UNITAID, got a bunch of other countries to help. That children's medicine is now 60 dollars a person a year. The only thing that is keeping us from basically saving the lives of everybody who needs the medicine to stay alive are the absence of systems necessary to diagnose, treat and care for people and deliver this medicine.
We started a childhood obesity initiative with the Heart Association in America. We tried to do the same thing by negotiating industry-right deals with the soft drink and the snack food industry to cut the caloric and other dangerous content of food going to our children in the schools. We just reorganized the markets. And it occurred to me that in this whole non-governmental world, somebody needs to be thinking about organizing public goods markets. And that is now what we're trying to do, and working with this large cities group to fight climate change, to negotiate huge, big, volume deals that will enable cities which generate 75 percent of the world's greenhouse gases, to drastically and quickly reduce greenhouse gas emissions in a way that is good economics. And this whole discussion as if it's some sort of economic burden, is a mystery to me. I think it's a bird's nest on the ground. When Al Gore won his well-deserved Oscar for the "Inconvenient Truth" movie, I was thrilled, but I had urged him to make a second movie quickly.
For those of you who saw "An Inconvenient Truth," the most important slide in the Gore lecture is the last one, which shows here's where greenhouse gases are going if we don't do anything, here's where they could go. And then there are six different categories of things we can do to change the trajectory. We need a movie on those six categories. And all of you need to have it embedded in your brains and to organize yourselves around it. So we're trying to do that. So organizing these markets is one thing we try to do.
Now we have taken on a second thing, and this gets to my wish. It has been my experience in working in developing countries that while the headlines may all be -- the pessimistic headlines may say, well, we can't do this, that or the other thing because of corruption -- I think incapacity is a far bigger problem in poor countries than corruption, and feeds corruption. We now have the money, given these low prices, to distribute AIDS drugs all over the world to people we cannot presently reach. Today these low prices are available in the 25 countries where we work, and in a total of 62 countries, and about 550,000 people are getting the benefits of them. But the money is there to reach others. The systems are not there to reach the people. So what we have been trying to do, working first in Rwanda and then in Malawi and other places -- but I want to talk about Rwanda tonight -- is to develop a model for rural health care in a very poor area that can be used to deal with AIDS, TB, malaria, other infectious diseases, maternal and child health, and a whole range of health issues poor people are grappling with in the developing world, that can first be scaled for the whole nation of Rwanda, and then will be a model that could literally be implemented in any other poor country in the world.