Gates urges donors to invest in global health funds

Bill and Melinda Gates say dramatic progress in world health shows value of investing in global funds to fight disease

Global health is on an upward trajectory but new investments in efforts to fight disease and poverty are vital to drive future progress, philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates have said.

Deaths due to infectious diseases such as HIV, malaria and measles have halved from their 1999 levels, Melinda Gates said, citing data from the US-based Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. Under-five mortality rates have fallen by more than half in the same period.

“The world has become dramatically healthier in the past 20 years,” she told journalists in a briefing call. “The human and economic benefits of this are just enormous.”

“We would not continue to make those investments if we didn’t see the incredible return that we’re getting”The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is one of the largest funders of global aid initiatives aimed at helping the world’s people live longer, healthier and more productive lives.

It has given close to $10bn since 1999 to four funds including the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), the GAVI vaccines alliance, and the Global Financing Facility for child and maternal health, representing roughly one in every five dollars of the foundation’s funding.

“We would not continue to make those investments if we didn’t see the incredible return that we’re getting, in the payoff for the world,” said Melinda Gates. “The data is really striking.”

The foundation is seeking to rally support for investment in the four organisations, which have been primarily funded by wealthy donor governments, to ensure they can continue their work.

The Global Fund is this year seeking $14bn in replenishment funding to support its goal of ending the epidemics of HIV, tuberculosis and malaria by 2030, while the other three initiatives have funding cycles in the pipeline.

“Over the next 18 months, all four of these are at kind of 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,” said Bill Gates.

He also stressed that increased spending on public health could help avert larger geopolitical crises, such as global pandemics, by strengthening healthcare resources in poor countries.

Following West Africa’s Ebola epidemic, which began in 2013 and left 11,000 people dead, the World Health Organisation and others were criticised for a slow and chaotic response.

“[These organisations] do fund the primary healthcare system,” he said. “This would help detect and intervene for an outbreak far better than if these funds weren’t there, helping to build up that capacity.”

“If we want peace and stability around the world, we need to make these investments in health. Health is what allows people to go on and get a great education and reach their full potential,” said Melinda Gates.