Gates Foundation discusses public health

A leader of the world’s largest foundation emphasized the need for a long-term commitment to fighting global health issues at a presentation at 1957 E Street Friday.

Rajiv J. Shah, director of strategic opportunities for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, spoke on the challenges of effective global health and detailed the foundation’s strategy for fighting problems.

“What one pharmaceutical product do we spend the most on? Erectile dysfunction medications. You can imagine people don’t actually die of that,” Shah said, after presenting the audience with a slide demonstrating how worldwide, one in 12 children die before reaching 5 years old due to the lack of basic immunization.

The Elliott School of International Affairs building’s State Room was filled with students, faculty and professionals for the event, hosted by the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Tropical Medicine in conjunction with the Elliott School. The Gates Foundation has maintained its mission over the years to promote greater justice in global health, education and public libraries.

Shah said the foundation’s goal, an 80 percent reduction in child mortality, still has a way to go. The organization is still trying to “build partners to be global players” and up its “scale and visibility,” Shah said.

Shah created the Foundation’s Policy Research Network, devoted to instituting global health policy innovations, and was also the health care policy adviser for Al Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign.

With a $29.1 billion endowment, the Gates Foundation has committed more than $10 billion in grants since its founding in 2000. Joking with the audience, Shah said the the foundation “(doesn’t do) anything, we just provide the funds.”

“We’ve discovered our voice over the pasts five or six years,” Shah said. “You can succeed in working in this field and our success can sustain itself.”

Students were excited to get an inside glimpse of the Gates Foundation, named for and funded by the Microsoft founder and his wife.

“The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is so huge in the global health community,” said Jill Ceitlin, a first year master’s of public health student, said. “I couldn’t pass this opportunity up.”

“There needs to be a leader and (Bill Gates) has the resolve and the drive to do that on a global scale,” said Trey Walkins, also a first year MPH student. “(The foundation) crosses every border, every culture and is not just about developing nations.”

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