Letter from Jeff Raikes
Grantee perception report
Last year I announced that the foundation would be commissioning a Grantee Perception Report, and I promised that I’d report back about our findings.
They were sobering. We received below-average ratings on many aspects of the grantee experience. We take this feedback very seriously, because we understand that some of these barriers are preventing us and our grantees from maximizing our impact. We don’t see our work as a popularity contest—there is bound to be some tension in even the most productive relationships—but we know that we must do everything we can to make sure that we and our grantees can have the maximum possible impact. We spent much of the past year digesting the results and developing a plan to address them. You can read more about this process and its outcome at www.gatesfoundation.org/gpr.
As CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, my job is to make sure we are using our resources—our endowment, the expertise of our staff, and the voices of our leaders—to the utmost, so that we can have the maximum possible impact on people’s lives. And the next five years offer a historic opportunity to have an impact on the health and welfare of people in the developing world. Even in the face of very tough economic times across the globe, I am optimistic when I think about all that we can accomplish together with our partners.
Jeff Raikes talking with schoolchildren at Ashongman School (Accra, Ghana, 2009)
I think in terms of the next five years because 2015 will be a landmark year. In 2000, the United Nations took the historic step of setting specific targets in eight areas of global health and development. It called them the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and it gave the world 15 years—until 2015—to meet them.
The MDGs set the clearest health and development agenda the world has ever had, and the decade since they were ratified has seen more progress than any other 10-year period in history. Just two weeks from now, the UN will convene a special session to discuss how governments, foundations, and NGOs can work together to speed up that progress.
In the next five years, we also have the chance to introduce vaccines for rotavirus and pneumococcal disease into the developing world. Vaccines are a miracle (not to mention an extremely high-return investment), because with just a few doses, they protect a child for a lifetime. In five years, we could be immunizing hundreds of millions of infants against two diseases that currently take the lives of 2 million children every year.
And in five years, we will be even closer to the complete and total eradication of poliovirus from the earth.
Almost everybody has heard of polio, but many people don’t know it still exists. Most people aren’t aware of the enormous and longstanding global effort to eradicate the disease, and very few understand the critical juncture we’re at right now.
Raikes visiting Friendship Collegiate Academy (Washington, D.C., 2008)
It’s worth taking a moment to reflect on what eradication means. If vaccines are miraculous because they protect a child for a lifetime, then eradication is the ultimate miracle. Eradicating a disease protects all children, forever.
It’s enough to measure the impact in terms of lives saved and suffering averted. But the moral case is augmented by an economic one that’s almost as powerful. Yes, it’s going to be expensive to travel the last mile toward eradication. But it will be exponentially more expensive if we don’t reach the end of the road, because we’d have to keep on treating thousands of children paralyzed each year indefinitely.
According to a recent cost-effectiveness study, investments in polio vaccination in the United States have prevented 1 million cases of polio and saved more than $180 billion. In the countries where polio is still a threat, that savings could go a long way toward addressing some of the other health problems with which poor people continue to struggle.
Since 1988, when the world set the goal of eliminating the disease forever, the number of polio cases has gone down by 99 percent. Just two decades ago, the disease was circulating in 125 countries; now, there are only four countries that have never stopped transmission of the disease.
But eliminating polio from the last handful of countries is a lot harder than eliminating it from the first handful. It takes a massive effort to eradicate a disease, which is why it’s happened only once before, when smallpox was eradicated in 1980.
The difficulty involved in ferreting out every last poliovirus is staggering. It takes an effort of such consistent intensity that it’s simply not sustainable over a period of years and years.
Raikes (sitting, third from left) at a meeting of latrine masons in Chiwata Village, Listening to J.M. Mkwanda (second from left) discuss rural sanitation projects.
We have a narrow window of opportunity. It is impossible to keep the virus at its current levels indefinitely. Either we eradicate polio—preventing suffering, saving billions of dollars, and demonstrating what is possible with a global effort—or we fail and start to backslide. If we fail the number of cases will start to go back up, and the virus will spread back over borders into countries where it has been eliminated. We are seeing this play out in Tajikistan, part of a region declared polio-free in 2002, where 454 cases of polio have been confirmed this year.
The stakes are so high, and we have come so far, which is why I am so surprised that the world is short of the funding it needs to finish the job. Right now, there is not enough money past next summer to carry out all of the immunization activities to keep the world on track to eradicate polio. It’s shocking, but funding from the G8 countries has actually gone down in the last several years.
It’s very clear: This is make-or-break time for polio eradication. That’s why polio is one of my top priorities as CEO.
When we invest in polio eradication, we know exactly what we’re getting for our money. The eradication campaign is extremely well organized and has a long record of success.
The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) is a model partnership. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Rotary International, UNICEF, and the World Health Organization (WHO) have been working to support polio-affected countries for more than 20 years.
Each partner plays a particular role, doing what they do best to make an extraordinarily effective whole. Rotary is a powerful fundraiser and advocate. CDC provides technical expertise. UNICEF purchases oral polio vaccine and supports grassroots mobilization, and WHO leads surveillance, operations, and the complicated logistics on the ground.
One of the main things we’re adding to the effort, along with our own financial commitment, is our voice. We have a platform from which we can help generate attention. Hopefully, that attention will in turn help generate the funding and political commitment needed to finish the job.
Bill, Melinda, and I make regular site visits to India, one of the four remaining countries where the disease is endemic—and we will continue to do so, to see the progress on the ground and meet with key leaders. In recent years, Bill has also traveled extensively to Nigeria, another endemic country.
The progress happening in both those countries makes me optimistic. In Nigeria between January 1 and August 24, 2010, there were just six cases of polio, compared to 368 during the same period last year. India has reported the lowest number of cases in a decade; so far this year only 30 cases have been registered, against last year’s 236 at this point.
The most exciting thing about all the work we’re doing together with our partners around the world and in the United States is the tangible difference we can make in the lives of millions and millions of people: newborns in India, high school students in Los Angeles, small farmers in Ethiopia, homeless families in my hometown of Seattle, to name just a few.
When I travel on behalf of the foundation, whether it’s to slums and villages in poor countries or to high schools and community colleges in the United States, I am always moved by people’s eternal hope for a better life. At the foundation, we share their ambition and their optimism.
I look forward to the day when I can write a letter talking about how the world eradicated polio.
CEO, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation