Bill and Melinda Gates, co-chairs of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, have called on U.S. policy makers to support initiatives to fight AIDS, malaria, and other diseases in poor countries, which they called "America's best investment for saving lives."
In a joint speech to lawmakers, administration officials, and foreign policy experts as part of the foundation's new Living Proof Project, the Gateses noted that U.S. spending on global health has increased significantly in recent years, from $1.5 billion in 2001 to $7.7 billion in 2009. Although that figure represents less than one-quarter of 1 percent of the federal budget, the nation's investments in global health have achieved impressive results. For instance, since 2003 the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief has helped save an estimated 1.2 million lives. "U.S.-supported global health programs are saving and improving the lives of millions of people, at a remarkably low cost," said Bill Gates. "All Americans should be proud of this success."
The Gateses also urged policy makers to commit to reducing child deaths worldwide by nearly 50 percent — from about nine million per year to five million — by 2025, noting that U.S. support of global health initiatives has already helped reduce deaths of young children by more than 50 percent in the past fifty years. Citing new projections by Johns Hopkins University researchers, the Gateses highlighted four strategies that could be combined to achieve that goal: immunizing 90 percent of the world's children against measles, rotavirus, pneumococcal, and other illnesses; providing malaria prevention tools to 90 percent of people at risk of the disease and effective malaria drugs to 75 percent of those in need; providing basic health services to at least 75 percent of pregnant women and newborns; and ensuring that at least 75 percent of children receive treatment for diarrhea and pneumonia.
"When it comes to global health, Bill and I are optimists — but we're impatient optimists," said Melinda Gates. "The world is getting better, but it's not getting better for everyone, and it's not getting better fast enough."