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Global wishes for 2022: a gift box for everyone, greater girl power, vertical gardens

Dola Sun for NPR

If you could wish for one thing in 2022, what would it be?

That's the question we posed to global thinkers. As the world enters year 3 of the pandemic, we were curious about what one (or two or three) things they would wish for to make earth a better place.

We heard from Nobel Peace Prize winners (Malala Yousafzai and Nadia Murad), doctors on the front line of the pandemic and advocates who devote their lives to help the most vulnerable humans.

We asked them to dream big. And sometimes they reminded us that a small wish can bring great happiness. You don't always have to reinvent the wheel. Sometimes you just have to spend some time and cash to stop suffering — and bring hope to our COVID-battered planet.

Here's what our wish makers wished for.

(Also, we want to hear from you! Click here to find out how you can share your own 2022 global wishes with NPR.)

Give a gift box to protect everyone

Dr. Madhu Pai

As 2022 begins with a massive omicron crisis, I feel despondent. But it gives me hope that we now know a lot about COVID-19 and have some amazing tools that we did not have at the start of the pandemic.

My dream is that every family in the world will receive these tools as a gift in the new year, in the form of a care package: COVID-19 vaccines, high-quality masks (like a KN95 or N95), rapid antigen self-tests and new antiviral medications.

To make this dream a reality, rich nations must stop vaccine hoarding, redistribute surplus vaccines to meet their pledges to COVAX [the world's vaccine-sharing program] and mandate pharmaceutical companies to transfer know-how for diagnostics, vaccines and therapeutics to other manufacturers. If we can find a way to share these tools equitably and increase their production across the world, then we have a real shot at ending this pandemic.

Listen to the world's girls

Malala Yousafzai

My wish is the same as always: I want to live in a world where every girl can learn and lead. For that to happen in 2022, a lot would need to change. Every government would need to ensure their education budget is fully funded. This would require leaders allocating at least 15% to 20% of public expenditure to education. More funding for education would help build schools, hire teachers and update curriculums. I'd like to see curricula be more inclusive and ensure equal access to critical areas like STEM education.

We also need more leaders taking into account girls' experiences and expertise. Every company or nonprofit that markets to or works to serve girls should have young women on their board. I want politicians to seek counsel from young women constituents. I want more media outlets to seek girls as sources. Girls should not just benefit from more equitable plans and policies — I want them to help shape it.

Send a vertical garden to every small-scale farmer

Esther Ngumbi

My bold wish for 2022 is that everyone who runs a small farm — that's 500 million families globally — will be sent a planter with shelves to cultivate a vertical garden.

These simple contraptions don't require as much soil as you'd need to grow crops in the ground, so less water is needed. That's critical because many smallholder farmers rely on rainwater, and climate change has disrupted rainfall patterns. So that means families go hungry when there's not rain. With a vertical garden, a farmer can grow many nutritious green leafy vegetables such as kale, cabbage, amaranth and herbs — with less water. Vertical planters would go a long way in helping families access healthy green vegetables and fresh food all year long.

Stop ignoring the mental health toll of the pandemic

Dr. Sriram Shamasunder

Over the last two years, people have not been able to support their loved ones at their bedside as they die — or perform traditional rituals that provide a degree of healing for those left behind.

And burnout across health professions is soaring. The great resignation has left people rethinking their priorities and their well-being.

The data has been there for a long time. We know that our brain becomes deeply affected and rewired by trauma and stress. But the world has now hit a tipping point in its collective consciousness: mental health is essential and must be prioritized.

As a result, global health institutions will start to focus on well-being and mental health as a topic that needs significant reimagining and investment. And care and competency around mental health will be seen as essential for health care workers and patients.

Pursue justice for survivors of sexual violence

Nadia Murad

As a survivor of sexual and gender-based violence, for 2022 I wish that no one is forced to live through what I experienced at the hands of perpetrators of crimes against humanity. [In 2014, Murad was captured and sexually enslaved for three months by ISIS members.]

However, I am clear-eyed enough to know this isn't realistic. Traumatic cycles of violence and genocide continue to threaten the livelihoods of millions of people, be it in Ethiopia, Afghanistan or Iraq. Like many victims of these crimes today, my own Yazidi community is still coping with the aftermath of a massacre that cut short the lives of thousands of men, women and children.

So my wish is that world leaders step up and support survivor-centric organizations like the Global Survivor's Fund, which provides those who have suffered from sexual and gender-based violence with reparations to help them heal and rebuild their lives.

And I wish the international community would actively pursue justice and accountability of perpetrators of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. This can help prevent future atrocities by signaling that impunity will not be tolerated.

Unite against the pandemic

Dr. Abraar Karan

In 2022, my wish is that the world will show a deeper commitment to global solidarity in regard to COVID-19. We have all suffered a shared tragedy in this pandemic, and we cannot stop it without coming together. That lesson was learned the hard way in 2021 because of vaccine and resource inequity and ongoing new variants.

But this could very well be the year the world unites against the pandemic. Pharmaceutical companies such as Moderna and Pfizer, for example, could offer the vaccine to impoverished parts of the world at cost (or for free). And world leaders could reward them for doing so by expediting review of their other drugs currently in development but not yet on the market. This could amount to enough potential revenue for the companies to offset the cost of abandoning their COVID-19 vaccine profits in these specific settings and do the right thing to help end the pandemic.

Create mRNA vaccines for lots of diseases and build respect for community health workers

Dr. Raj Panjabi

We'll see major steps forward in mRNA vaccines for both cancer and malaria. The world has been focused on how messenger RNA technology could help end the COVID-19 pandemic, but I'm hopeful we'll soon see it leveraged to halt other diseases that cause suffering around the world.

Already, developers have been looking at options for mRNA-based cancer vaccines and therapeutics. It would be fantastic to see one or more mRNA-based malaria vaccine candidates approaching or in clinical trials by the end of next year, moving us closer to a future with several vaccine options that are even more effective than those approved in 2021 — and accessible to all in need of a vaccination.

In 2022, government leaders will elevate community health workers — many of whom are women — into leadership positions and give them better pay.

In the U.S. and countries across the globe, from Liberia to Laos, these workers are best positioned to help their neighbors fight disease. During the pandemic, for example, they have been central in promoting mask use, educating their communities about COVID-19 vaccines and even delivering malaria tests and treatment to homes during periods of lockdown. But many of these workers remain unpaid or underpaid for their labor.

Let's support these local workers because they can make all the difference. Whether it's COVID-19, malaria or HIV/AIDS, outbreaks start and stop in communities.

Take care of mothers-to-be (and fathers-to-be, too)

Dr. Ana Langer

My wish in 2022 is that all girls and women around the world will have access to timely and quality maternal health care and safe and legal termination of mistimed or unwanted pregnancies — without legal and socioeconomic barriers, fear, coercion or discrimination.

For this dream to come true, women and supportive men of all ages, races and nationalities must join forces and demand world leaders to guarantee their full participation in decision-making about policies and programs that affect their bodies and health. Free quality maternity care should be available for all women everywhere. And maternity and paternity paid leave should become a global priority. As a result, the world will become a better place for everyone.

Fulfill 3 simple wishes to make the world a better place for children

Susannah Hares

In 2022, I want donors and governments to take the welfare of children more seriously.

My first wish is for the elimination of violence against children in school. Schools are meant to be a place of safety and learning. But too often schools fail at this core task of keeping children safe, with an appalling proportion of children exposed to physical and sexual violence from their teachers and peers.

Efforts to tackle violence against children are seriously limited by poor data, especially in low- and middle-income countries. But where we have good data — for example in six countries in sub-Saharan Africa — we know that two-thirds of children suffer physical violence and a third of girls suffer sexual abuse.

Violence against children is wrong in its own right, but it is also a major obstacle to human and economic development. Violence is strongly associated with devastating effects on brain development and health outcomes. To eliminate violence against children in school we need better data, better research on what works and elevated prominence of the issue within the education sector.

My second wish is for every child to receive a school meal. Worldwide, millions of kids get meals at school — and for many, this is the only hot, nutritious meal they have all day. And during the pandemic, the World Food Programme estimates that more than 300 million children did not receive their school meal due to school closures.

Research published this year suggests that providing meals to children at school has intergenerational benefits. Women who were beneficiaries of India's school feeding program, for example, went on to have children who were healthier because they were more likely to receive more education, not have children too young and seek care at medical facilities. And there are impressive results from a national study in Ghana: when children receive a school meal, they are likely to get more schooling and learn better in the classroom.

For all those looking for what works in education: take note. Providing a school meal may be one of the best things we can do for children. Feed kids everywhere and the world will be better.

My third wish is for a global effort to tackle lead poisoning. Lead poisoning is an issue in the U.S., but in many low- and middle-income countries, the burden is much higher. An estimated 800 million children globally have lead in their blood at or above levels that require intervention. Yet it does not receive sufficient political attention or financial resources from domestic governments and the global community.

Lead poisoning can attack children's health and development during their vulnerable and formative early years — with devastating lifelong effects. For example, a study of schoolchildren in China found that elevated blood lead concentrations are significantly associated with reduced scores on standardized school tests.

In 2022, I'd like to see lead poisoning become an issue the global education community cares about. To make the case for this, we need more research from developing countries on the link between lead poisoning and education outcomes — and the global burden of lead poisoning. Most existing research is from high-income countries.

Your turn: What is your global wish for 2022?

What could the world achieve this year if we had a limitless budget and full support from global leaders? Tell us about a global health and development problem you would tackle, why you think it's important to address in the coming year and how you'd solve it. We may feature it on NPR.org. Email your idea to goatsandsoda@npr.org with the subject line "2022 wishes."

Joanne Lu and Kamala Thiagarajan contributed to this story.
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