Worldwide investment in global health initiatives has halved the number of children under 5 dying every year, but the world can’t throw in the towel just yet, according to Bill and Melinda Gates.
Following an op-ed by Bill Gates, which was published in the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, the philanthropists held a press call, where they discussed the returns on investment in global health initiatives and urged the international community to commit to important global health funds.
Through their foundation, Bill and Melinda Gates have invested $10 billion into global health organizations in the last 20 years, Bill wrote in the Wall Street Journal.
Among their commitments to health initiatives are four large-scale organizations: Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; the Global Fund; the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI); and the Global Financing Facility (GFF) — all funds that are set to run out in the next 18 months.
Bill called the returns on their health investments "really fantastic." The impact has been most notable on mortality rates of children under 5.
Melinda shared what she called "striking data" with reporters on the press call.
"A child born today is half as likely to die before the age of 5, compared to if she was born in 2000," Melinda said, according to Reuters. "The human and economic benefits of this are enormous."
We’re closer now than we have ever been to eradicating polio. That’s why it’s more important than ever to support organizations like @Rotary that help polio workers on the frontlines of this fight: https://t.co/gPAiJgjxdPpic.twitter.com/n3ckvzWbf8— Bill Gates (@BillGates) January 13, 2018
In 1990, there were 12.6 million deaths of children under 5 — that number dropped to 5.4 million in 2017, which is a clear testament to investment in global health. The number of child deaths due to infectious diseases like HIV, malaria, and measles have been cut in half.
The Gateses are also well-known for investing in polio eradication. While many in the developed world might consider this a disease of the past, continued investment is needed if the world is going to succeed in its full eradication.
"In the early 2000s ... it looked like people might give up [on polio], which if you do give up, then the disease comes back and spreads back," Bill said, according to Business Insider. "And depending on how much you give up, you could go all the way back to the 300,000 kids a year being paralyzed. And so, even though a lot of money has been put into this, we can also say that we've saved literally millions of kids who were not paralyzed because of that."
Global efforts to eliminate polio began in 1988, at a time when there were 350,000 cases every year. Massive immunization campaigns have led to just 29 reported cases in 2018. The disease is 99.9% eradicated, with wild cases persisting only in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Its eradication has taken longer than expected, but results stemming from GPEI investment are nonetheless encouraging — and have changed the way the world reacts to other health crisis, such as Ebola and Zika outbreaks. This has also led to further insight for other organizations.
For instance, the Global Fund, which tackles AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, is now implementing ideas that originated from polio initiatives, like surveillance systems, and applying them to campaigns against malaria, Bill wrote in the Wall Street Journal.
The other funds supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation — the GFF and Gavi — support global health in different, but related, ways. Gavi focuses on purchasing vaccines and helping developing countries get them to children and the GFF works to ensure maternal and child health around the world, which is essentially the frontline of all health security.
In short: More investment leads to more understanding, which leads to more victories in global health.
And these investments don’t just save lives — they also positively impact the economy, Bill explained.
When young people are educated and employed, it’s good for the economy. If they are sick or killed by a health epidemic, countries are disadvantaged, and the cycle of poverty continues.
Global health has seen great strides, but the fight is not over and continued investment in the Global Fund, Gavi, the GFF, and GPEI is essential.
"Over the next 18 months, all four of these are kind of at a critical point where the level of distraction by domestic issues or issues that are confined to the rich world do make us somewhat concerned that the great success story here and the need to renew these resources may not get the attention it deserves," Bill said.
That is why the Gateses are calling on governments to commit to global health initiatives like the four big ones they support. Governments are in positions to contribute much more than NGOS, Bill said — and after outlining the benefits, the reasons are clear.
Disclosure: The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is a funding partner of Global Citizen.
Editor's note: This article originally inaccurately indicated that the Gateses had invested $10 million into global health initiatives rather than $10 billion, and the article had indicated that the investement was over 10 years, rather than 20. This piece has also been updated to include a disclosure that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is a funding partner of Global Citizen. We regret the oversight.