Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Bill Gates and 'Impatient Optimism'

Bill Gates delivered the BBC’s annual Richard Dimbleby lecture yesterday (29 January 2013). He spoke with great passion about the work and goals of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and in particular, his impatient optimism for the eradication of polio.

It is clear that the Gates Foundation has had a profound affect on health provision and innovation in the developing world. The Foundation’s $36 billion endowment alone ensures it is a major player in global health, but its approach and its focus are also highly influential (as some of Innogen’s PPP work attests).

The Foundation favours efficiency and focusing on big solutions - in many respects this is entirely appropriate as we are talking of big problems - and many of these solutions tend to the high tech. Vaccines are a case in point. The history of Jonas Salk and his half century old polio vaccine is both one of innovation, inspiration and public will, and one of lack of access, endless patience and disease. One can see why the story of the polio vaccine inspires, but it ought to caution, too.

Inspiration and innovation, driven by the vision and generosity of the Gates Foundation, are transforming the way health research for development is undertaken (and in many respects the direction it takes). It may take a more patient, or circumspect, optimism to transform the world into a place where vaccines get into the veins of those who most need them, when they are needed.