Press Room




Melinda French Gates - 2007 World Economic Forum

January 25, 2007
Prepared remarks by Melinda French Gates, co-chair

Davos brings together the most influential business and political leaders in the world, to talk about the most urgent problems in the world. Thank you for using your influence at this prestigious occasion to shine a spotlight on the poverty and disease that are devastating developing countries.

I also want to acknowledge Sir Richard Feachem, who is serving out his last few months as head of the Global Fund for AIDS, TB, and Malaria. 
The Global Fund plays a central role in the fight against AIDS, TB, and malaria by combining the strengths of the public and private sectors. It has been at the heart of a dramatic increase in funding. The Global Fund is a tremendous success story, and Bill and I are delighted to support it. As Richard pointed out earlier tonight, it has helped save nearly a million and a half lives in just five years. Thank you, Richard.
Richard also talked about the amazing things that businesses are doing for the Global Fund through the Product Red Campaign.
Product Red is one of several opportunities for businesses to support the Global Fund. I hope you’ll all consider contributing to the Fund’s crucial work.
Despite the great work of groups like the Global Fund, millions of children still die every year of diseases we can prevent easily and cheaply. And more than 1 billion people live on less than a dollar a day, suffer from chronic hunger, and don’t have enough clean water to cook with or drink.

By contrast, each of us in this room had the chance to grow up healthy, get a good education, and live our dreams. Bill and I started our foundation because we believe that people living in extreme poverty and dying of preventable diseases deserve the same chance we all had: the chance to make the most of their lives.
Together, we can give them that chance. The next century will see amazing innovations in fields like medicine, telecommunications, finance, and education. If we harness these innovations so they benefit the people who need them the most, we can save millions of lives, and help billions lift themselves out of poverty.

Philanthropy can spur these innovations and show what’s possible. But no foundation can do it alone. To make a world where every person has a chance to live a healthy, productive life, we need contributions from across the board: from governments, from non-profits, from individuals, and of course, from businesses.

Businesses are essential to finding solutions to problems in the developing world, and making sure those solutions reach every person who needs them. This is what I would like to talk about with you tonight.

Three years ago, on a trip to Mozambique, Bill and I got a vivid reminder of what the world can do for desperately sick and impoverished people when we work together.

We visited a hospital where we met a young girl who was sick with malaria. She was shivering with fever, and on the verge of death.  The doctors didn’t expect her to live through the night. Her mother sat nearby, gently stroking her daughter’s head, fearing that she was about to lose her second child to this disease.

I remember looking at her and thinking that if this were an American child, she wouldn’t be suffering. We don’t see much malaria in the U.S., but it still kills more than 1 million people each year, nearly all of them in developing countries. Every day, malaria kills 2,000 African children.

But today, the girl we met in Mozambique is alive and healthy. A great miracle happened to this beautiful child. She got the drugs she needed to clear the parasite from her body. 

We need to be able to tell this kind of story over and over—millions of times, for millions of children like that little girl in Mozambique. Someday we will, thanks to the private sector’s work in groups like the Medicines for Malaria Venture.

MMV brings together more than 40 businesses, non-profits, universities, and international organizations to make sure that people in poor countries get the malaria medicines we already have, and that safer, more effective medicines are developed and distributed.

Without the private sector, MMV would have no hope of success.

Here’s how MMV works. Pharmaceutical and biotech companies contribute their expertise and facilities for malaria research. Academic and public-sector scientists provide their research innovations.  More than 10 public and private donors, including our foundation, give financial support.

Let me tell you about one of the partnerships created by MMV. It includes a pharmaceutical scientist from the University of Iowa; parasitologists from Senegal and the World Health Organization; and manufacturing engineers from businesses in Korea and Vietnam.

The drug they’ve developed is being tested in 15 countries and could be licensed for use in humans by 2009.  It should work against all types of malaria—even the deadliest drug-resistant forms. And it will be affordable: It will cost less than a dollar to treat an adult, and less than 50 cents to treat a child—compared to $1.80 for the drug being used today.

This work is happening only because the public and private sectors came together to solve a vexing problem: Malaria has been a classic case of market failure.

We have known what causes malaria for more than a hundred years; in fact, in the early part of the 20th century, a Nobel prize was awarded for work related to the disease. Yet today, we still don’t have an effective vaccine for it, and for years there was very little research on new drugs to treat it.

Why? It’s not because the science is too difficult. It’s because the countries that can afford new vaccines and medicines for malaria don’t need them anymore—they essentially eradicated the disease years ago. And the countries that do need new vaccines and medicines can’t afford them. So the private sector has no incentive to develop them.

There is great demand for drugs and vaccines, but on its own, this demand is not generating a new supply.

Organizations like MMV represent a new way of doing business that can close this gap. This new approach makes the most of the strengths of the private and the public sectors. It lets them work together as partners rather than against each other as competitors. It brings in crucial money and expertise. And it reduces the risk of failure for pharmaceutical companies by giving them access to the best new scientific research.

MMV shows how the market can work for the world’s poorest people. But it is just one example.

A recent innovation in finance is harnessing the power of the market in a different way, to help millions of children in developing countries get life-saving vaccines.

It still shocks me today to think about how many children go without basic vaccines that you and I take for granted. A few years ago, Bill and I read a newspaper article about diseases in the developing world. We learned that millions of children die from diseases we thought had been eradicated, diseases like pertussis, hepatitis B, tetanus, and yellow fever. Every year, nearly three quarters of a million people, most of them children, die of measles. Measles!

These children are dying not because we don’t have vaccines to prevent these diseases. They’re dying because the vaccines we have aren’t reaching the people who need them.

That’s why our foundation has helped fund GAVI, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization. GAVI has supplied vaccines to 115 million children in the developing world. But it needs to reach even more children, and to do that, it desperately needs much more money.

Bond markets can be used to provide that funding. Last November, a group of banks issued a bond to raise money for GAVI. The bond was backed by pledges from six donor countries led by the United Kingdom and France.

It raised $1 billion in the capital markets, and is expected to raise a total of $4 billion over the next 10 years As a result, GAVI will get what it has needed most: a long-term, predictable, and reliable source of funds. And millions more children will get the vaccines they need for a healthy start in life.

We can also capture the power of the market through a new concept called an Advanced Market Commitment. The AMC concept uses money pledged from donor countries to guarantee a market for vaccine developers. Under the terms of an AMC, the vaccine companies would receive additional money beyond what developing countries can afford to pay.

This gives them a reasonable incentive to develop and manufacture vaccines that otherwise might never exist. The donors pay only if the vaccine is safe and effective--and if it's actually used by developing countries. And, of course, developing countries benefit because they get new vaccines at prices they can afford.

An AMC pilot project is forming now that could help create a new vaccine against pneumococcal disease. If it’s developed and distributed, this vaccine could save the lives of 1 million children a year.

Of course, pharmaceutical, biotech, and financial companies aren’t the only businesses that can do something about inequity. In fact, whether you run a media company, sell consumer products, or simply employ a large workforce, you can get involved.

I would like to tell you about two ways the private sector can help people improve their lives.

We know that if we’re going to stop HIV—a disease that kills nearly 3 million people every year—we have to conquer the terrible stigma that is attached to the disease. The business community can help us in this effort.

I saw just how devastating stigma can be during a visit Bill and I made last December to an AIDS hospice in South India. The patients in the hospice were separated by gender. The long, narrow trailer of the male ward was filled with families and flowers. Children came to spend precious last minutes with their fathers.

Across a courtyard, we saw a very different scene. The female ward was a lonely, desolate place. There were no visitors — just women wasting away from AIDS. Some of them had managed to get themselves to the hospice; others had been abandoned there by a relative who no longer wanted anything to do with them. There was no love, no warmth, no comfort. Just wives and mothers, left alone to die.

This is the fate for far too many women with HIV: they take the blame for this disease, even when they’re blameless.

We can’t cure these women, but we can help them live with dignity. This kind of stigma can be overcome. One crucial step is to give people reliable information—not myths and rumors—about how HIV is spread, who is most vulnerable, and how it can be prevented.

Educating people about HIV is the goal of the Global Media AIDS Initiative. It was formed in 2004 by the United Nations and the Kaiser Family Foundation, and today it includes more than 100 companies from 62 countries—including China, India, Botswana, and the United States.

These companies have agreed to put informative HIV messages in all their programs—from news coverage and public-service announcements to a storyline in a soap opera. Some broadcasters have committed as much as one hour a day, every day, to HIV-related topics. This is an exciting project, and I hope more companies join it.

Another opportunity that’s open to any company—no matter what line of business it’s in—is participating in projects like the World Economic Forum’s Global Health Initiative, and the Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS, TB, and Malaria. Some of you may already be part of one or both of these.

The Global Business Coalition includes some 200 businesses from around the world, representing biotechnology, automotive, information technology, retail, construction, mining, energy, and transportation.

Some of these companies offer voluntary HIV tests and implement non-discrimination policies. Some help deliver services to TB and malaria patients in the communities where they operate. All of them have recognized that they can help stop these diseases from killing millions of people a year, and ruining the lives of millions more.

There are going to be many more ways for the private sector to get involved. Soon, some of the new drugs and vaccines being developed will be ready for wide distribution. We’ll need the best business minds—in marketing, finance, logistics, insurance—to make sure these solutions reach everyone who needs them.

I hope each of you will consider how your company can contribute. Let me suggest three ways to start.

First, you can join and support groups like the Global Business Coalition and the Global Health Initiative. No matter what kind of business you are in, these groups can help you fight disease and poverty.

You can also help your employees get involved in philanthropy. Set up a program that connects them with opportunities to volunteer and lets them request matching funds for their charitable donations. It’s not just the right thing to do—it’s also a great business decision. Encouraging your employees’ charitable efforts can increase employee morale and retention.

Finally, I hope you’ll carry this message to your government’s leaders: As important as the private sector is, we cannot solve complex problems like extreme poverty and rampant disease unless the public sector stays deeply involved. We have to press for collective action.

Consider this: Our foundation—even after Warren Buffett’s generous gift—still accounts for less than one percent of giving in America. If we used it to fill the gap between the amount of money that’s available for health in developing countries and the amount that’s needed, it would barely last one year.

You are all influential business leaders. Government officials listen to you. I  hope you’ll tell them that you and your businesses care about saving lives, and remind them how important they are to saving those lives.

I’m a firm believer in the power of philanthropy to stimulate exciting new ideas that show us how to solve matters of life and death. But I also believe that none of that will matter, unless governments and businesses join in solving these problems and make sure the solutions reach millions of people.

The blessings all of us in this room enjoy have given us the ability to do this important work. We also have the responsibility to do it. I can’t think of anything that’s worth more of our time and effort.

Thank you.

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