- Photo Courtesy of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, published his second annual letter on the foundation website yesterday recounting his experiences and reflections from his first year of working full-time on Foundation business. The letter highlighted the foundation’s achievements in 2009 and its goals for the new year.
In his letter, Gates reminds us all that, while significant gains have been made in recent years in global health, 2009 was a particularly difficult year due to the tough economic climate and the world’s poorest people were impacted disproportionately by the downturn. The economic downturn has and will continue to exacerbate existing health problems, including the control of neglected tropical diseases. Although the economy is still weak, Gates is “very optimistic about the progress we can make in the years ahead.” Throughout the letter, Gates cites innovation as an important step in improving global health noting that “a combination of scientific innovations and great leaders who are working on behalf of the world’s poorest people will continue to improve the human condition.”
Innovation, he stressed, is underinvested by donors, especially with regards to innovations that benefit the world’s poor. The disenfranchised often do not garner high levels of investment because of their inability to generate market demand. Gates writes that “if we project what the world will be like 10 years from now without innovation in health, education, energy, or food, the picture is quite bleak.” He envisions the role of the Gates Foundation to be a place where higher risk innovations can be explored and invested in projects and programs that otherwise may not receive adequate funding and attention. Overall, the Foundation backs over thirty innovations ranging from online learning techniques to vaccine and seed development. Such investments have yielded tremendous results including a decrease in childhood deaths; improvements in vaccine efficacy and coverage; increased usage of insecticide treated bed nets to combat malaria; decreased transmission rates of HIV; increased availability of antiretroviral therapy; improvements in U.S. public education and increased agricultural productivity.
For all of the successes that have been achieved, Gates acknowledges “there is significant risk that aid budgets will either be cut or not increase much” due to the current global financial situation. A continued commitment to global health will be necessary to ensure health as a human right and improve quality of life for the world’s poor.
In addition to the publication of annual letters, joining twitter and the creation of a new website will allow Gates to share his thoughts on the Foundation activities and personal reflections from his trips and other areas of interests.
Looking forward, 2010 should be an interesting year in global health. The Sabin Vaccine Institute is excited to be working with the Gates Foundation towards similar innovations that will help to eliminate neglected tropical diseases and their burden on the disenfranchised.