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Health

Bill Gates at Davos: 'Health Has a Road Map' to Saving More Lives


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Philanthropist Bill Gates called for funding and promotion of global health initiatives at a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Tuesday.

To discuss financial innovation in global health, Gates was joined by Peter Sands, executive director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria;  Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization; Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, board chair for Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; Dr. Sania Nishtar, chairperson for  Benazir Income Support Program; and Novartis CEO Vasant Narasimhan.

Just last week, Gates penned an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal highlighting the impact of investment in global health initiatives like Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; the Global Fund; the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI); and the Global Financing Facility (GFF).

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At the panel, Gates reiterated that he feels “fantastic about the investment [and] the impact it’s had.”

In the last 20 years, Gates said that about $100 billion has been committed to global health initiatives (including $10 billion from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) and the impact has been most notable on mortality rates of children under 5.

In 1990, there were 12.6 million deaths of children under 5 — that number decreased to 5.4 million in 2017. A child born today is half as likely to die before turning 5 than they were in 2000, the Gateses reported last week.

“We’re not saying that we don’t have a lot more to do. We still have a lot of places where 10 to 20% of the children still die before the age of 5,” Gates said.

And with all initiatives, health organizations face challenges, like drug resistance or resistance to bed nets for malaria protection, he said.

“But the world is going to get a chance to look back on this track record and really support the ongoing work,” Gates noted, adding that replenishments for Global Fund and GAVI will provide that opportunity in upcoming months.

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The topics of conversation among the health experts ranged from global investment to research and development to alliance between partners, both public and private.

Organizations in health have had to learn a lot in the last two decades, as they have confronted obstacles in pricing, delivery, and coordination. But they have successfully learned to coordinate with one another and that has proven to be key, according to Gates.

“In development aid, I think, health has a road map that if we get the right sources, we can cut those deaths in half again,” he said.

But one thing that stands out to him is the need for success stories to be seen and heard when it comes to global health.

“People may be more aware about the criticisms than they are about the success,” he said. “Getting a good news story out is very hard when it’s a very far away thing and there’s a bunch of acronyms,” he said.

In other words, helping voters understand the value in developmental aid is essential.

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“If we don’t bring back the track record of global health and really get that story out there, we run the risk, with so many distractions, including a sort of more turning inward type framework, we could have less money,” Gates cautioned.

Without funding for organizations like Gavi or the Global Fund, progress toward Global Goal 3 would stall. The last 20 years have led to remarkable alliances and initiatives that have saved millions of lives — but investment is always needed if the world is going to achieve global health for all by 2030.

Sands ended the panel by asking a fitting question.

“We can end the three biggest infectious diseases in the world, if we want to,” he said. “Why wouldn’t we?”


Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article indicated that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation had invested $1 billion and not $10 billion to global health initiatives in the last 20 years.