U.S. support could help halve child deaths worldwide in 15 years

WASHINGTON — In a joint speech to policymakers Oct. 27, Bill and Melinda Gates made the case that U.S. initiatives to fight AIDS, malaria and other diseases in poor countries are “America’s best investment for saving lives,” and that continued support could help cut child deaths in half worldwide in just 15 years.

“Dollar for dollar, global health is America’s best investment for saving lives,” said Bill Gates. “U.S.-supported global health programs are saving and improving the lives of millions of people, at a remarkably low cost. All Americans should be proud of this success.”

Melinda Gates told NPR that she and her husband have faith that biotechnology and vaccines can eradicate diseases such as AIDS.

An AIDS vaccine is their long-term goal, she says, "but given that we don't have a vaccine, what other pieces do we invest in today to make sure we prevent the disease as much as we can?"

While spending on global health makes up less than one quarter of 1 percent of the federal budget, it has increased significantly in recent years — from $1.5 billion in 2001 to $7.7 billion in 2009.

One result the Gateses cited: In less than a decade, the GAVI Alliance — a global initiative to immunize children in poor countries — has already prevented an estimated 3.4 million deaths. While recent progress in global health is encouraging, the Gateses will emphasize that it is only a starting point.

The Gateses urged policymakers to commit to reducing child deaths worldwide by nearly 50 percent — from approximately 9 million at present per year to 5 million — by 2025.

One strategy to achieving this goal is to immunize 90 percent of children with vaccines to prevent rotavirus, pneumococcal disease, measles and other illnesses.