Bill and Melinda Gates' realisation in the late 1990s that rotavirus was killing half a million children every year was one of the events that led them to set up their Foundation in 1994.
"Bill Gates often tells the story of reading a newspaper article about the leading causes of childhood death, including rotavirus. How is it possible, he wondered, that a disease that now kills 600,000 children per year is the focus of so little attention and investment?" recalls Dr Tachi Yamada, former president of the Foundation’s Global Health Program.
Since then, vaccines have become the Gates Foundation's biggest investment.
The realisation that children in developed countries had access to vaccines while children in developing countries were dying for lack of them prompted the Foundation to invest as a founding partner in Gavi.
The Foundation's initial five-year pledge of US$ 750 million in 1999 provided the seed money to launch Gavi. Since then, additional pledges have brought the Foundation's total commitment to Gavi to date to over US$ 4 billion.
By supporting Gavi, the Foundation – which has a permanent seat on the Gavi Board – aims to accelerate access of developing countries to vaccines and support research into health solutions for these countries that are effective, affordable and sustainable.
In 2009, Bill Gates expressed the hope that the new rotavirus vaccine could reach half the children who needed it within six years.
More than half of all Gavi-supported countries have introduced the rotavirus vaccine and more than three-quarters have included pneumococcal vaccine, which protects against the main cause of pneumonia, into their immunisation programmes.
The Gates Foundation plays both a technical and financial role in the Vaccine Alliance’s efforts to shape vaccine markets. It helps to gather data to inform our decision making and provides financial support for market investments.
The Foundation invests in activities ranging from vaccine discovery through development to delivery, and encourages product innovation and new entrants into the market.
The best investment we've ever made.