The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Global Health Program continues to seek to “harness advances in science and technology to save lives in poor countries”, through a budget that now exceeds $2 billion every year. But a small yet highly significant part of this programme that focuses on early-stage research now seems to play a smaller part in the overall Gates’ vision.
Over the last seven years, the Grand Challenges in Global Health has provided $460 million in funding for 45 highly innovative projects with the long-term potential to create new health care interventions. However, according to an article in the Seattle Times, most of the researchers who received grants have now exhausted their original funding and only a select few will receive further support. Future Grand Challenges grants will be much smaller and quick results will be demanded.
The article reports that the Foundation has modified its priorities and will now “focus on technologies with the biggest health payoffs and near-term applications”. Vaccine development apparently now tops the priority list.
The article expresses the concern of some scientists who, “…having experienced the way Gates can give, then take away, are wary of pinning their research programs to the interests of one very rich man”.
While there is no doubt that global health has benefited massively from the input of the Gates Foundation, concerns have often been expressed as to the lack of information about the process the Foundation uses to decide upon (and sometimes subsequently change) its priorities. This does lead to a sense of insecurity among scientists and others receiving Gates support.