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Gates Annual Letter Addresses Importance Of Innovation For Global Health, Agriculture

In his second annual letter, Bill Gates reflects on the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s work and the importance innovation will play in overcoming some of the world’s greatest challenges, including in global health and agriculture, the Associated Press reports. “Gates says the foundation currently is backing 30 areas of innovation including online learning, teacher improvement, malaria vaccine development, HIV prevention, and genetically modified seeds,” according to the news service (Gordon Blankinship, 1/25).

The Chronicle of Philanthropy reports that Gates offers “a glimpse into his thinking and his hopes for the future. ‘Despite the tough economy, I am still very optimistic about the progress we can make in the years ahead,’ he writes.  ‘A combination of scientific innovations and great leaders who are working on behalf of the world’s poorest people will continue to improve the human condition’” (Wilhelm, 1/24).

“Melinda and I see our foundation’s key role as investing in innovations that would not otherwise be funded,” Gates writes in the letter. “With vaccines, drugs, and other improvements, health in poor countries will continue to get better, and people will choose to have smaller families. With better seeds, training, and access to markets, farmers in poor countries will be able to grow more food” (1/25).

Gates addresses some of the foundation’s projects, including the development and dissemination of a rotavirus vaccine and research of new insecticides for bed nets to fight malaria, the AP reports, adding that “[n]early seven pages of the letter focus on the foundation’s work in global health and repeatedly Mr. Gates admits the work to reach the foundation’s ambitious goals is harder than they expected” (1/25).

The Seattle Times adds: “Gates touched on his support for new seed technologies for agriculture, acknowledging genetic modification remains controversial. But he argued that ‘with the proper safety reviews, this technique can help create disease-resistant and drought-tolerant crops that couldn’t not be created any other way, protecting billions of dollars of harvest and increasing the food supply by millions of tons each year’” (Heim, 1/24).

Donor Countries’ Foreign Aid

The Wall Street Journal reports that “Gates broke down major countries’ aid as a percentage of their gross domestic product, noting that by that measure, the world’s most generous countries include Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and Luxembourg, which give between 0.72% and 1% of GDP to foreign aid. Others, however, are falling short, he said, pointing to drops in aid from France and Japan” (Guth, 1/25).

Of the U.S., Gates notes in the letter that it “is the biggest giver in absolute terms, but in percentage [of GDP] terms gives only 0.19 percent. In recent years, a significant portion of this assistance went to reconstruction in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. If Congress passes President Obama’s proposal to double giving, however, the United States will get up into a very respectable range” (1/25).

Donor countries’ budget deficits caused by the economic downturn combined with an international focus on boosting climate change spending could also threaten money available for health issues, Gates said, according to Reuters (Rigby, 1/24). “The final communique of the Copenhagen Summit, held last December, talks about mobilizing $10 billion per year in the next three years and $100 billion per year by 2020 for developing countries, which is over three quarters of all foreign aid now given by the richest countries,” Gates writes. “I am concerned that some of this money will come from reducing other categories of foreign aid, especially health. If just 1 percent of the $100 billion goal came from vaccine funding, then 700,000 more children could die from preventable diseases (1/25).

Gates “rejected criticism that he had not followed other philanthropists by channelling some of his foundation’s $34bn in assets to fight global warming, arguing that the best solution was for-profit investment in new carbon-free energy technologies,” the Financial Times writes. According to the newspaper, in an interview, Gates described how the foundation’s effort to reduce child mortality, improve reproductive health and develop drought-resistant crops would help mitigate the potential consequences of climate change (Jack, 1/24).

allAfrica.com examines the work of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation being carried out in parts of Africa (Allen, 1/25).

Several news outlets interviewed Gates regarding his annual letter. The links are below: