Gates Foundation: Six goals for 2011

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation published its third annual letter this week. It outlines six focus areas for 2011: polio, malaria, infant deaths, agricultural productivity and U.S. education.
Written by Andrew Nusca, Contributor

TheBill & Melinda Gates Foundation published its third annual letter (.pdf) this week. In it, former Microsoft chairman Bill Gates outlines six goals the foundation has for 2011.

They are:

1.) Eradicate polio. We've discussed this mission at length here on SmartPlanet, but Gates reaffirms his commitment and reminds readers of the stakes.

He writes:

The last 1 percent remains a true danger. Eradication is not guaranteed. It requires campaigns to give polio vaccine to all children under 5 in poor countries, at a cost of almost $1 billion per year. We have to be aggressive about continuing these campaigns until we succeed in eradicating that last 1 percent.

2.) Fight malaria. Gates writes that the foundation's efforts are gaining traction. One goal: a low-cost, highly effective vaccine, in the works by pharmaceutical firm GlaxoSmithKline.

In the meantime:

We are also working on lowering the cost of the anti-malaria drugs containing artemisinin, which are expensive enough that people are still using less effective drugs instead. The approaches range from breeding the plant that provides artemisinin to have a higher yield, to using very advanced synthetic chemistry that can make artemisinin starting with simple sugars.

3.) Save infant children. "Of the 8.1 million deaths per year of children under the age of 5, over 40 percent happen in the first 28 days of life, or the neonatal period," Gates writes.

Vaccines help, but the answer is instilling best practices in those critical first moments.

"It's also important to teach mothers to wash their hands before handling a baby, to have frequent skin-to-skin contact with their babies, and to breastfeed exclusively for the baby’s first six months."

4.) Invest in HIV/AIDS solutions. The pace of progress is slow here, mostly because it's so expensive. Without a bulletproof vaccine, patients must receive treatment for their entire lives. The problem: just treating those people infected today costs four times as much as what's available in aid.

A few bright spots: counseling behavior, male circumcision, vaginal microbicide gel and early wins in the pursuit of a vaccine.

"If the United States had an epidemic where almost half the girls in large neighborhoods contracted a terrible disease, we would find a way to cut through all the complexity," he writs.

5.) Boost agricultural productivity. "The near-term rise in food prices and the long-term increased demand for food will create opportunities for small farmers even in the poorest countries. In fact, increasing production in Africa will be critical for the world to have enough food. It’s encouraging that foreign aid for agriculture has now increased from its historic low of just $2.8 billion in 2003 to $5.9 billion in 2009."

6.) Rethink education with data. The key word here: feedback. According to PISA, two things differentiate U.S. education from other countries. The first: foreign students are in school for more hours. The second: American schools do very little to measure, invest in, and reward teacher excellence.

"The remarkable thing about great teachers today is that in most cases nobody taught them how to be great," Gates writes. "They figured it out on their own."

There's nothing revolutionary here that Gates hasn't described in detail before, but the elephant in the room is simple: money. Despite Gates' immense personal wealth, the success of his philanthropic foundation rests in convincing other well-heeled donors that these causes are worth investing in -- not just morally, but with a guarantee that additional funds will make a difference.

Will others buy in?

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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