Gates Foundation Gives $200 Million for Research of Diseases in Developing World, Including HIV/AIDS
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation yesterday announced it would donate $200 million to "identify critical questions" about the leading causes of death in developing countries, including HIV/AIDS, and to establish an international competition to encourage researchers to focus on the issues, the New York Times reports. Only 10% of medical research examines the diseases that constitute 90% of the world's health burden, Bill Gates, chair of Microsoft Corp. and founder of the foundation, said, adding that the grants will help to "shif[t] the priority of research on health problems affecting the four billion people living in poor countries," according to the Times (Altman, New York Times, 1/27). The "Grand Challenges in Global Health Initiative" will be administered by the NIH Foundation, which will also offer scientific "advice, expertise and support" for the initiative, the Wall Street Journal reports. The initiative will begin with a panel of experts, led by former NIH director Harold Varmus and including NIH Director Elias Zerhouni and National Cancer Institute Director Richard Klausner, who will be charged with creating a list of "basic research challenges" (Adams, Wall Street Journal, 1/27). The committee is expected to ask researchers to seek "novel approaches" to preventing and treating HIV/AIDS among their list of challenges (Brown, Washington Post, 1/27). Gates said, "There's a list of about 20 or so (diseases) that deserve a lot of focus. I think we'd want to see huge advances -- not only in the big three malaria, tuberculosis and AIDS, but moving down to measles, sleeping sickness, a lot of other things." Gates also said he projects the grant will be spent in three to five years, adding that the foundation would offer more if the initiative "worked," according to the Boston Globe. He said, "If we see right away that more than $200 million should be used, the foundation makes decisions very quickly. We will decide to put more money into these things" (Donnelly, Boston Globe, 1/27).
In a Wall Street Journal opinion piece, Gates writes there needs to be a "world-wide call to action" to study and cure the diseases of the developing world, including HIV/AIDS. He continues that "[h]ere, the role of philanthropy, in the best sense, is its ability to place a value on things that the market does not." Gates says that a model for the Grand Challenges in Global Health Initiative can be found in the human genome mapping project -- a global, interdisciplinary effort. Gates states, "Similar efforts to end the disease[s] of the developing world will help recruit new scientific talent to these areas." In addition, more public attention for the issue could lead to more "public investment, as the power of global opinion makes it difficult for the wealthier world to ignore major problems and the best pathways to improve global health." Gates concludes, "The chronic underfunding of research in disease[s] of the poor has led the rich world to view these health challenges as inevitable or insoluble. Clearly, they are neither" (Gates, Wall Street Journal, 1/27).
NPR's "Weekend Edition Sunday" yesterday reported on the Gates Foundation's grant announcement. The segment includes comments from Harvard School of Public Health Dean Dr. Barry Bloom, Gates and Zerhouni (Hamilton, "Weekend Edition Sunday," NPR, 1/26). The full segment is available online in RealPlayer.