Bill Gates has released his 2011 Annual Letter on behalf of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, drawing attention to seven ambitious social good initiatives. Gates stresses the need for renewed investment in foreign aid even as international budgets struggle against cuts and deficits.
Gates positions himself as a representative for the world’s poorest, those who will not have a chance to lobby governments for support, writing: “Whether you believe it a moral imperative or in the rich world’s enlightened self-interest, securing the conditions that will lead to a healthy, prosperous future for everyone is a goal I believe we all share.”
The greatest priority, Gates says, is ending polio. Since hitting its peak in the U.S. in 1952, the number of cases has gone down 99%; now, there are less than 1,500 known cases of polio worldwide. There are just four countries where polio transmission has not been stopped: India, Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan. While these numbers have been dropping, Gates says the majority of outbreaks in 2010 were actually in countries that had been polio-free. The virus travelled back across borders into countries like Tajikistan and Congo.
Eradicating polio by investing in vaccines, Gates writes, could prevent polio-related deaths, eliminate costs for treating the disease in future years, and provide an example that dangerous diseases can be stopped. Gates says that by scaling the amount of polio vaccines — just $0.13 per dose — in the affected countries, we could save 3 million lives and $2.9 billion in treatment costs during the next decade.
“In the same way that during my Microsoft career I talked about the magic of software, I now spend my time talking about the magic of vaccines,” his letter says.
Other areas covered in the letter include the fight against malaria. The death toll from the illness dropped by 26% between 2000 and 2009, and Turkmenistan and Morocco were recently declared malaria-free.
Gates is also committed to saving the youngest children, claiming that 40% of the 8.1 million deaths per year of children under age five, happen in the first 28 days of life or the neonatal period.
HIV/AIDS continues to be a problem despite the fact that the number of people dying from AIDS has gone down by more than 20% in the last five years, to less than 2 million people annually. However, Gates is pushing for better results, writing: “Given all the lives that are at stake, I am impatient enough about this that I am willing to be viewed as a troublemaker by people who are happy with the status quo.”
Investment in agriculture, specifically for developing nations, is also one way to cut down on poverty and hunger. Gates writes that investments in seed, training, access to markets and innovative agricultural policy are already making a real difference worldwide.
In the U.S., the foundation’s biggest investments are in education. Improved teaching was highlighted as a way to enhance the country’s lagging international scores in mathematics, reading and science. According to the OECD PISA 2009 database, the U.S. was ranked behind at least 16 other countries in each category. Americans were significantly below average in their math scores compared to residents of other countries like Germany and Slovenia.
Gates aims to improve teaching standards by gathering high-quality feedback from peer reviews and video tapes while rewarding excellent teachers and learning from their example. Technology is also playing a role as seen in Sal Khan’s online school, Khan Academy, which uses online exercises to diagnose students’ weak spots and also uses online dashboards to help other teachers work with the site in their own classrooms.
Lastly, Gates mentions the giving pledge, an individual commitment to give away a majority of one’s wealth during one’s life or through one’s will. While the current roster of 58 pledgees skews towards the enormously wealthy, Gates insists it was more about fostering the drive to give back, regardless of personal wealth or geographical location.
For more information, you can check out Gatesnotes.com, or join the fight to end polio here. And let us know what you think of the initiatives: Are Gates and the foundation heading down the right path? Sound off in the comments below.
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