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A Time for Change

By Blake Smith
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
March 27, 2000
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Deadly diseases claim the lives of millions of people in developing countries each year, but a new foundation is working to combat these killers.

Jack Faris, director of community strategies for the Gates Foundation, told a group of about 40 UA students and Tucsonans Friday that advancements in technology are opening new possibilities for global healthcare change.

"Because of technology, we have unprecedented opportunities to improve the lives of people," Faris said.

The Gates Foundation, a merger of two organizations founded by Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates 18 months ago, is currently working in many areas to improve worldwide health care.

With $21.8 billion in contributions, the Gates Foundation is the world's largest non-profit group.

One of the biggest undertakings for the organization is the establishment of a $750 million Global Fund for Children's Vaccines. The foundation's pamphlet said the initiative "will help insure that children in the poorest countries are fully immunized against major killer diseases."

"Everyone in the world should have the same expectations of health and life as we do here in the United States," Faris said.

Recently, the Foundation immunized 133 million children in one day, mostly in developing countries, against polio.

The Gates Foundation has been working to completely eradicate polio through vaccination, which will save billions of dollars in health costs, Faris said.

"We hope to kill the virus within the next 12 months," he said.

Another priority for the foundation is reducing maternal mortality, particularly in developing countries. Gates Foundation statistics show that 95 percent of the deaths caused by complications from childbirth could have been prevented with antibiotics.

When the foundation was first started, Gates focused his efforts on the struggling library system in Seattle.

He saw a problem which is commonly referred to as the "Digital Divide" - a realization that rural and impoverished communities in America are falling far behind in the ever-advancing technological world.

To help change this trend, the Gates Foundation made a $200 million commitment to putting a computer with Internet access in each of America's 3,000 library buildings in the next few years.

As part of his visit to the University of Arizona, Faris sat down with a group of students from the Undergraduate Biology Research Program, which sponsored the talk along with the Fulbright Association and Biomedical Research Abroad: Vistas Open.

Some ideas Faris said he took away from the meeting with students include changes in curriculum to promote involvement in international affairs, and a two month overseas work program.

Molecular and cellular biology senior Shahnaz Kazi, who is part of the program, said she was pleased by the efforts of the Gates Foundation.

"I was impressed with the commitment of the foundation in eradicating diseases," Kazi said.

She added that she plans to go to medical school and work with a group such as "Doctors Without Borders" someday.

In the next 10 to 15 years, the Gates Foundation plans to have developed a vaccination for AIDS and drug-resistant strains of malaria and polio.

Faris said the foundation also hopes to completely eliminate up to three deadly diseases by that time.

He added that Americans are quick to help their neighbors in times of need, but their worldwide contributions are not great.

Last year, the United States gave 0.1 percent of its gross national product to foreign aid, which ranks as 21st among countries.

A 1999 Gallup poll found that 75 percent of Americans oppose foreign aid.

Faris said he thinks Americans are reluctant to offer aid to nations in need because the problems abroad are "too painful to confront." He said the foundation cannot improve worldwide health care alone, as they are simply acting as a catalyst for global change.

During Faris' hour-long talk, statistics estimate that 616 more people contracted AIDS around the world.

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