GLOBAL HEALTH ADVANCES
Because of the significant time lag for most data on global health trends, it's difficult to paint a comprehensive picture of how the fight against disease has fared over the last four years. Even so, it's clear that there have been some significant victories: India, which in 2009 had the highest incidence of polio in the world, has been removed from the World Health Organizations polio-endemic list, leaving Nigeria, Pakistan, and Afghanistan as the lone holdouts in the fight against the crippling childhood disease.
Meanwhile, the last four years has seen a 132 percent increase in the number of people with access to preventative malaria measures and the preliminary results have been positive. Between 2008 and 2010, the last year for which the World Health Organization has data, the number of annual malaria deaths dropped from nearly 863,000 to 655,000 -- and this while the world's population increased by almost 200 million. At the same time, researchers have made substantial progress toward a malaria vaccine -- which reduced the incidence of the tropical disease by 50 percent in a 2011 clinical trial in Africa -- though there is growing concern about the spread of drug-resistant strains of malaria, especially in Southeast Asia.
Programs like the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria have also made substantial gains in the fight against HIV/AIDS -- so much so that New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof recently wrote about the plight of out-of-work coffin makers in Lesotho. There are still roughly 2.7 million new infections annually around the world, but according to the 2011 UNAIDS report, both infections and deaths are on the wane.
The jury is still out on the so-called Arab Spring, but the last four years have been an unmitigated disaster for some of the world's worst and longest-serving rulers (known at FP as the committee to destroy the world). Not only did angry publics force out aging strongmen in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, and Libya -- who had ruled for a combined 116 years -- but a surprising number of dictators from all over the world have kicked the bucket since Obama was elected. In December 2008, Lansana Conté died in office, ending an illustrious 24-year stint as president of Guinea, during which the West African country was consistently rated among the most corrupt on the planet. A year later, the world bid farewell to the notoriously self-obsessed Omar Bongo, who had spent the previous 41 years running oil-rich Gabon as his personal estate. In the last year, North Korean enigma Kim Jong Il and Ethiopian strongman Meles Zenawi both died unexpectedly. The two had 38 years of leadership experience between them.