Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last week, Bill and Melinda Gates called on world leaders, corporations, NGOs, and individuals to maintain their commitments to foreign assistance and investment despite the challenging economic climate. As part of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's ongoing commitment to global health, the foundation's co-chairs also announced a $34 million grant to the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases.
According to the Gateses, advances in health too often fail to reach those who need them most — individuals living in developing nations, where 2.5 million people live on less than $2 a day. In developing countries, two-thirds of deaths in children under the age of five stem from health problems that are preventable or treatable with existing tools. To make matters worse, the recent economic and food crises are threatening progress made in improving health and reducing poverty, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.
Citing evidence that demonstrate the effectiveness of investments in development and health, the Gateses challenged the business community, individuals, and world leaders to review the neglected tropical disease "investment book" developed by the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases, which has mapped out the potential health and monetary benefits to be gained from specific NTD investments. In Liberia, for example, a five-year, $3.6 million investment could result in comprehensive treatment for 2.4 million individuals, or nearly 75 percent of that country's population.
The network will use the support from Gates and other donors — including Accenture, Pfizer, and the Inter-American Development Bank — to help control and greatly reduce by 2020 the burden of the most prevalent neglected diseases affecting the world's poorest populations, including trachoma, hookworm, river blindness, snail fever, and lymphatic filariasis.
"For governments, corporations, NGOs, and individuals, there is little else during this global economic crisis that provides such a significant return on investment while also reducing suffering and saving lives," said Melinda Gates. "For approximately fifty cents per person per year, we can treat seven of the most common neglected tropical diseases, or just one generous donation could help control neglected tropical diseases across an entire country. And while investments in neglected tropical disease control are reaping significant dividends, much work remains."