In the coming years, the global economy is predicted to change on a scale not seen since the Industrial Revolution over 200 years ago. For the first time in history, the global middle class will soon enough outnumber the impoverished. By many estimates, humanity will reach this milestone within the next two decades, as the middle class expands from 2 billion to nearly 5 billion by 2030.

The 21st century’s economic revolution no longer springs from Europe and North America as it once did in the 19th and 20th centuries. This time around, the major players in this new game are Brazil, Russia, India, South Africa, and China, also known as the BRICS. All four have experienced rapid growth in recent years — the highest of which is China, which has experienced a 10% annual growth in GDP from 1990 to 2009. Among them, they produce approximately a quarter of the world’s GDP while also hosting a quarter of the world’s population.

Yet these countries still have progress to make, especially in regards to health issues. The BRICS contain a majority of the world’s medical-drug-resistant tuberculosis cases and a significant portion of the world’s tuberculosis instances. They also bear the burden of high rates of neglected tropical diseases such as trachoma, lymphatic filariasis and soil-transmitted helminths.

In fact, according to a World Health Organization report, “BRICS account for more than 30 percent of the world’s children at risk with soil-transmitted helminths,” while India “alone accounts for nearly half the world’s population at risk of lymphatic filariasis.” Debilitating diseases such as these heavily contribute to poverty as they keep children out of school and parents out of work.

Where there is big growth, there is also ample capacity for innovative solutions. While afflicted by these illnesses, the BRICS have also made effective progress in treating and eradicating them. In 2012, Brazil initiated a tropical disease program tied to its anti-poverty program after finding strong links between occurrences of tropical diseases and poverty among its population.

India, which bears the burden for 35% of the global incidents of neglected tropical diseases, has also made important strides. Recently, it launched the world’s largest initiative aimed at researching lymphatic filariasis.

China has joined the fight against tuberculosis, which plagues its rural and migrant populations. In the past, China struggled to obtain sufficient data on this disease, often due to the domestic migrations of male workers and the inadequacy of rural health resources. To confront these issues, China recently reformed their health care system in order to reduce the costs of tuberculosis treatments. They also have established a network that helps to identify tuberculosis victims early on in an attempt to provide timely treatment.

Progress on health issues in the BRICs has happened on more than just the domestic scale. As they share similar problems, the BRICs have often cooperated in joint efforts to research, treat and eradicate similar diseases. In fact, the BRICS gather annually at conferences to pool their resources and research in order to meet their 2020 objectives for fighting neglected diseases.

One such example of these recent collaborations is the Delhi Communiqué, which was designed as a joint effort to combat tuberculosis. The communiqué uses each country’s expertise — drug manufacturing in Brazil, pharmaceutical research and development in China, and medical technologies in Russia — to combine their overall efforts.

While bound for economic prosperity, the BRICS have other less desirable commonalities, such as high incidences of tropical diseases and tuberculosis. Yet these flaws have also united them and spurred innovation. With hope, their ambitions in the world of public health will be as successful as their economic achievements.

– Andrew Logan

Sources: Christian Science Monitor,Global Sherpa,NCBI,PRB,Reuters,UNESCO,WHO
Al Jazeera

Times are changing in the realm of foreign aid. Recent economic downturns have caused the aid levels of traditional donors like the US, Japan and the European Union to stagnate. However, another group of countries is rising to take their places. While in the past, these countries have received large amounts of foreign aid, they have rapidly evolved into some of the biggest benefactors. These burgeoning non-traditional donors are the BRIC countries.

Devised in 2001 by Jim O’Neil of Goldman Sachs, the acronym, BRIC, indicates Brazil, Russia, India and China. Within their borders, they contain 40% of the global population, encompassing a quarter of the world’s land and constitute another quarter of the global GDP. Those are some significant fractions.

Though already substantial, the BRIC countries stand to grow into the largest economies of the 21st century. According to predictions, China will have the largest GDP in the world by 2050, nearly twice that of the US. While China’s BRIC cohorts, India, Brazil and Russia are expected to stand at third, fifth and sixth places respectively.

In coincidence with their economic expansions, the BRIC countries have also stepped up their contributions to foreign aid. Estimates place China at the head of the pack with foreign aid spending in the broad range of $4 billion to $25 billion annually. According the Council on Foreign Relations, “This higher estimate would make China the second-largest provider of aid after the United States.” The rest of the BRICs trail behind. Estimates suggest India donates up from $680 million to $2.2billion annually, followed by Brazil with $400 million to $1.2 billion and finally, Russia with $500 million a year.

Excluding China however, these levels still hardly match traditional donors such as Norway, Sweden, Australia, Japan, the UK, France, Germany and Italy. Russia’s aid spending equals approximately that of Greece, while India’s spending compares to that of Portugal.

So then, what exactly makes the BRIC foreign aid spending significant?

Though the BRICs do not spend nearly as much as traditional donors, they spend in more incisive and focused manners. According to the GHSi, “international organizations have started looking to the BRICS as potential donors and health innovators in their own right . . . These countries represent a potentially transformative source of new resources and innovation for global health and development.”

India in particular has focused on global health initiatives that have labeled it “The Developing World’s Pharmacy”. As a major manufacturer of pharmaceuticals, India makes 60% to 80% of vaccines used by the UN and 80% of all donor-funded HIV treatments to developing nations.

Growth in spending, rather than the sheer magnitude of spending, also distinctively marks BRICs from more traditional donors. According to Reuters, all BRIC countries have heavily accelerated foreign aid spending in recent years. China has quadrupled its foreign aid spending between the years 2004 and 2011. According to their estimates, Brazil’s aid spending has had an annual increase of 20% a year between the years of 2005 and 2011. In 2010, Russia’s aid spending had quadrupled since 2006.

This growth also comes at a time when some traditional donors’ spending has become stagnant. While India’s foreign aid spending has, according to Reuters, “grown . . . at a rate 10 times that of the US,” Italian foreign aid has “fallen 10 percent in [the same] period.” In 2014, other traditional donors like Canada, France and Portugal all significantly decreased foreign aid spending.

For the rapidly expanding BRIC countries, foreign aid serves as a way to galvanize their position amongst the more traditional global powers. While they still cannot quite match their more developed counterparts, their increasing foreign aid spending reflects their predicted ascension into economic prosperity.

– Andrew Logan

Sources: Asia Pathways, CFR Global Sherpa 1, Global Sherpa 2 IPS News, NCBI Reuters, The Guardian 1 The Guardian 2
Photo: Flickr