Research and development must be harnessed to improve the lives of those with the greatest needs, whererever they are
We want to end extreme poverty.
If you’re reading this, we’re pretty sure that you do as well. You will probably already know about the enormous progress being made – that between 1990 and 2015, the global under-five death rate, the malaria death rate, and the number of people living in extreme poverty all halved.
If we are going to end extreme poverty, it’s going to take more than additional funds or deeper commitment, however. We are going to have to put science at the heart of international development.
That’s why the Department for International Development (DfID) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have signed a partnership aimed at using research, technological innovation and knowledge-sharing to transform the lives of the poorest people.
We believe that science should go not only to improving the lives of those who can afford it, but also to those with the greatest need, regardless of where they are.
This investment isn’t just altruistic.
As we saw from the Ebola outbreak, and again with Zika, many so-called diseases of the poor don’t just affect people in distant lands: they ignore class and background, and strike when we are least prepared.
So why has the need not been met already?
In spite of the clear moral and public health rationale for R&D, the profit motive is less clear. The market, on its own, finds it hard enough to invest in high-reward, low-risk ventures, never mind those where the patient is an Aids orphan or a person with tuberculosis.
Correcting this problem with the market has, however, been a fundamental role for the state for generations. As anyone who has ever watched the TV seriesLongitude knows, philanthropic and state capital had to provide the incentives to develop a way of measuring longitude. Publicly funded research helped create the internet and microprocessors. It led to the discoveries of penicillin andmonoclonal antibodies, which revolutionised medicine. And it fostered a green revolution that saved hundreds of millions of people from starvation.
In all those cases the state, and to a lesser extent philanthropists, recognised the huge rewards to society as a whole.
Today, we believe that the governments and philanthropists of the developed world have a similar role to play in correcting market failures that mean the public goods needed most are not being developed.
The Gates Foundation invests more than £350m a year in global health research and has invested more than £370m in agricultural R&D since 2008. DfID spends over £80m a year on global health research and a further £80m on agriculture R&D.
When we pool resources we can have a greater impact.
One example is the global alliance for livestock veterinary medicines, a partnership we have co-funded since 2008. Among its successes has been an East Coast fever vaccine distribution network in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Malawi. This disease is the biggest killer of cattle in 11 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, where livestock is a critical asset. Over 1.4m doses have been sold, saving approximately $100m worth of livestock.
The medicines for malaria venture (MMV) develops new drugs and we have supported it since its inception in 2002. MMV has launched six new treatments including Coartem® Dispersible, which was the first developed specifically to treat young children. Since its launch in 2009, more than 300m treatments have been delivered in more than 50 countries.
Much of our joint innovation will take place in British labs. With world-class universities, scientists and innovators, the UK is a global leader in the R&D that improves the health and well-being of the poorest people. That leadership creates jobs in the UK, and leads to growth and scientific breakthroughs that fuel other areas of industry and development.
We also aim to help spur the development of scientific knowledge in Africa. Working with the Wellcome Trust, we have been helping to develop the alliance for accelerating excellence in science in Africa. We also support crop and livestock scientists from 18 African countries so that they can access cutting-edge facilities at the Biosciences for eastern and central Africa hub in Nairobi, Kenya.
Through our continued investment in these global public goods, we are confident that we will be able to improve the lives not only of the poorest, but of all of us.