Geneva, 16 May 2005 - In a major address today to international health officials, Bill Gates said the world now has a "historic chance" to achieve dramatic improvements in health, and called on governments, the scientific community, and the private sector to more aggressively fight the diseases that affect hundreds of millions of the world's poorest people each year.
Emphasizing the urgent need to accelerate research on neglected diseases, Gates also announced that the Gates Foundation will more than double funding for the Grand Challenges in Global Health initiative, an effort launched in 2003 to develop solutions to 14 major scientific challenges that, if solved, could lead to breakthrough advances in global health. The foundation will provide an additional $250 million for the initiative, bringing its total commitment to $450 million.
"I'm an optimist," Gates said in his plenary speech to the World Health Assembly, an annual gathering of the world's top health officials. "We have a historic chance to build a world where all people, no matter where they're born, can have the preventive care, vaccines, and treatments they need to live a healthy life."
"There is a tragic inequity between the health of people in the developed world and the health of those in the rest of the world," Gates said. "I am here to talk about how the world, working together, can dramatically reduce this inequity. Never before have we had anything close to the tools we have today to both spread awareness of the problem and discover and deliver solutions."
Also today, Gates announced that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will provide $250 million in new funding for the Grand Challenges in Global Health initiative, which was established to support world class research on the diseases that disproportionately affect people in the developing world. The initiative, which was launched in 2003 with an initial Gates Foundation commitment of $200 million, addresses a major imbalance in health research funding. Of the billions of dollars spent worldwide each year to develop new vaccines, drugs, and other health tools, only a fraction is focused on diseases that primarily affect developing countries.
This summer, the initiative will announce its first round of grants to fund an array of innovative research and development efforts, selected from more than 1,500 proposed projects from 75 countries. Gates said that the foundation decided to double funding for the Grand Challenges initiative in order to fund more of the high-quality research proposals it has received from the international scientific community.
"The overwhelming response demonstrates that when scientists are given a chance to study questions that could save millions of lives, they eagerly rise to the challenge," Gates said, urging governments and other donors to also increase their investments in global health research. "There is tremendous untapped potential in the scientific community to address the diseases of the developing world. We've barely scratched the surface of what's possible."
The Grand Challenges initiative is administered jointly by the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health and the Gates Foundation, and guided by an Executive Committee of preeminent scientists chaired by Nobel Laureate Dr. Harold Varmus, President and CEO of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, and former Director of the National Institutes of Health.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation works to promote greater equity in four areas: global health, education, public libraries, and support for at-risk families in Washington state and Oregon. The Seattle-based foundation joins local, national, and international partners to ensure that advances in these areas reach those who need them most. The foundation is led by Bill Gates's father, William H. Gates Sr., and Patty Stonesifer.