Just ten per cent of health research funding is spent on studies of diseases affecting 90 per cent of the world's people. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's 'Grand Challenges in Global Health' initiative is offering US$200 million in research grants to redress the balance. But is it likely to work?
In this article in The Lancet, Anne-Emanuelle Birn of the University of Toronto's public health sciences department says the initiative largely misses the point: that poverty is the root cause of poor health and short life-spans.
She says the initiative focuses instead on technological methods to alleviate disease, such as new vaccines. And to meet the goal of improving nutrition, the project suggests making a region reliant on just one crop, a method that caused disaster in Ireland during the 19th century potato famine.
Birn says that the foundation could more effectively combat diseases of the poor by taking up a new challenge: integrating the medical or technical means of improving global health with social considerations. Schooling and sewage systems, for instance, affect long-term improvements in health outcomes, and a broad focus on social justice would bring the target of health for all closer, says Birn.