Jan 17, 2019

Gates: World's youngest are being saved by global health funds

Data: Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios 

Global health funds play a key role in improving the world's health — with the deaths of children under 5 dropping by more than 50% over the past couple decades when investment strengthened, Melinda and Bill Gates told a press conference Wednesday.

Why it matters: Activities from 4 major global funds, which have received almost $10 billion from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation since 1999, have proven to offer "enormous" benefits, they said.

Details: Bill said the returns from their investment into GAVI, the Global Fund, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative and Global Financing Facility have been "really fantastic."

  • Deaths from infectious diseases like HIV, malaria and measles have halved from their 1990 levels, a key factor in lowering death rates in the poorest countries.
  • A child born today is half as likely to die before the age of five, compared to if she was born in 2000.
  • Melinda noted that part of the challenge is to help less developed countries improve their infrastructure to be able to access necessary health care — for example, helping Zambia with the logistics of getting bed nets from the port to people who need them. "That's been fixed now," she said.
  • There's been progress on the challenge of producing vaccines faster, particularly for the deadly Ebola and MERS viruses, via public-private coalitions like CEPI, Bill said. He added that they are learning more about vaccines through pharma's interest in immunotherapy for cancer patients.

To be sure: Melinda and Bill didn't only discuss the rosy news.

  • Conquering polio has been a much more drawn-out and expensive battle than they originally anticipated — and it's one that continues to be problematic, they say.
  • The world is nowhere near ready to address a pandemic. "There's still a lot of work needed to be done," Bill said, especially in deciding what the rules would be and how cooperation would work in terms of a global emergency.
  • "Over the next 18 months, all 4 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.

The bottom line: There is a clear delineation in improved results after 2000, when "the world started investing more in global health, and in particular global health institutions," Melinda said. Both said it will be key that governments and private institutions continue investing in these funds for the next couple decades.

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