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Bill and Melinda Gates: Impatient optimists

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29 October 2009 08:06

Tim Siegenbeek van Heukelom is a Research Associate for Pacific Friends of the Global Fund at the Lowy Institute.

[flv:http://gates.edgeboss.net/download/gates/gfo/2009-impatient-optimist-spe...

On Tuesday in Washington, DC, Bill and Melinda Gates explained in a multimedia presentation why they are impatient optimists. 

First, the optimism. There have been some major improvements in global public health over the last decades due to the greatly increased support from the US Government and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Bill Gates showed that child mortality is down from 20 million deaths a year in 1960 to less than 9 million in 2008.

Focusing on the world's most deadly diseases, Gates presented some striking global facts: smallpox is eradicated, polio is reduced by 99%, measles by 93%, and in the fight against HIV and AIDS, there is a significant increase in mothers that are on preventive drugs. As for malaria, since 2004 some 190 million bednets have been delivered worldwide.

Yet, Bill and Melinda Gates are impatient because so much more can be done, right now. Why are there still many people dying of malaria while the disease is preventable and treatable? Fortunately, as Bill Gates said, 'we've got great science and more resources'. The key message Bill and Melinda Gates offered is that 'spending on global health is the best investment we make for saving lives'.

The presentation was, however, not a number crunch exercise; it launched the 'Living Proof Project', which highlights success stories resulting from the increased support for global public health programs. Rich and emotional stories from around the globe made their way into short video fragments showing how people are the living proof of successful global public health programs and the best return on investment you can get.

The launch of the Living Proof Project comes at a time when the global financial crisis imposes severe constraints on the capacity of the US and other traditional large donor countries to increase their development assistance and global health budgets. Living Proof is therefore a welcome intervention in the emerging public debate about the future funding and direction of development assistance. A successful replenishment of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria next year will, for example, be a crucial factor in making the world more ready to act than ever before.

A live broadcast of the presentation was screened yesterday at the Lowy Institute, where some 35 high level opinion formers listened to Bill and Melinda’s imperative message. You can watch here, and comments on the presentation can be found on the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Facebook page.

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