Posted by: charityinfo | October 17, 2011

Defeating Mosquitoes and Saving the World: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

During his 2009 talk at the annual TED conference, Bill Gates let loose seven mosquitoes. He did so after describing the impact mosquito-borne diseases on people all over the world and how malaria research funding waned as it was eradicated in wealthy countries. The mosquitoes he released were not infected but his point has been made: just because a disease affects only the poor or the distant, it is no less deadly or important to combat. The first section of Gates’s talk was, in effect, an illustration of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s fifth guiding principle: “Our focus is clear — and limited — and prioritizes some of the most neglected issues.”

Founded in 1994 as the William H. Gates Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation strives to improve people’s health and to combat extreme poverty on the worldwide level as well as to help people get an education and reach their goals on the national level. The majority of the foundation’s funds are directed to global health concerns such as basic sanitation, HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases that primarily impact neglected or under-supported areas. Importantly, the Gates Foundation only funds research and distribution;  it is not an on-the-ground organization.

It is important because the Gates Foundation’s emphasis on vaccines over smaller-scale tools like bed-nets draws the most criticism. Critics cite the very real risk that the Gates Foundation and its partners in the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) will become obliged to pharmacy companies and private donors who are looking to push their own agendas. However, through the efforts of the foundation and its partners, pharmaceutical companies offer their vaccines at a significantly reduced rate in developing countries.

The second-largest funding area is the Gates Foundation’s work within the United States. Mostly comprised of scholarships for students and funding for library programs, the foundation’s United States Program focuses on areas across the country that lack the resources for necessary educational goals. For instance, the 2007 Texas High School Project worked to improve graduation rates by setting clear standards, improving teacher quality, and understanding the work necessary to achieve the project’s objectives.

Although the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s goals are lofty, it possesses the drive and planning to achieve them in the very persons of Bill and Melinda Gates. The foundation also possesses the funding needed to finance its many charitable causes due to Gates’s vast personal fortune, fundraising, and the substantial donation made by Warren Buffett in 2006. With its championing of the vaccine approach and the strides being made in that field, the Gates Foundation inches ever closer to a day when someone can release mosquitoes in a crowded room without anyone worrying if they carry malaria.

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