My wife melinda and I recently published our new annual letter. The main theme of this year’s letter is what we’re calling our “big bet for the future”: that the lives of people in poor countries will improve faster in the next 15 years than at any other time in history.
That bet is grounded in our belief that the world is about to see major breakthroughs in certain crucial areas. One of those areas is health. Specifically, we believe that the global child-mortality rate will go down by half, and that more infectious diseases will be eradicated than ever before.
The people and governments of the Middle East have a vital role to play in determining whether the world will make good on this bet.
I saw the Middle East’s role in global health first-hand in late January, at a conference in Berlin dedicated to providing life-saving vaccines to children in low-income countries around the world.
The meeting’s purpose was to raise replenishment funds for Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. Gavi is a global partnership bringing together governments, U.N. agencies, the private sector and civil groups to help make sure that vaccines reach hundreds of millions of children in the poorest countries. Notably, Gavi has expanded access to vaccines that protect against diseases that cause pneumonia and severe diarrhea – the two largest killers of children under the age of five.
Since its inception in 2000, Gavi has helped vaccinate 440 million children in low-income countries, saving an estimated 7 million lives. The Berlin pledging conference raised over $7.5 billion – an amount that will allow Gavi to immunise an additional 300 million children just in the next five years, saving another 5 million to 6 million lives.
Donors from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) helped make all of this possible, raising nearly $40 million for the Gavi replenishment efforts. Our foundation has promised to match these contributions dollar-for-dollar, thus doubling the impact of the GCC pledges.
The Gulf’s support for Gavi includes large commitments from governments in the region. At the Berlin conference, Saudi Arabia pledged $25 million, Qatar $10 million, and Oman $3 million. In a wonderful illustration of the diversity of the region’s Gavi pledgers, the Kuwait Youth Contribute Committee (KYCC) – a group of university students – raised $160,000.
The United Arab Emirates has also made strong commitments to vaccines, pledging $33 million to Gavi in 2012 for vaccinations in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
These and the many other public and private GCC donations to Gavi are most welcome. They will save lives and prevent needless suffering. But as our foundation has expanded its engagement with the Middle East, I have become increasingly convinced that this part of the world is poised to play a still larger role in eradicating disease and improving public health in the poorest parts of the world.
Our work with such outstanding regional partners as Dubai Cares, the Shefa Fund, the Qatar Foundation, and the Islamic Development Bank – to name just a few – has shown me beyond any doubt that the governments and private citizens of the Gulf are ready to go the next level of involvement and impact in global public health.
One indicator of this is the marked development of Gulf foreign-assistance institutions in recent years. The increasingly impressive scale and sophistication of the region’s public and private aid organisations is a strong sign of the Gulf’s capacity to bring even greater resources to bear.
Those resources – by which I mean not only the Gulf’s money, but also its ingenuity and its cultural influence – will be vital to helping us achieve historic gains in human well-being.
In order for the world to realise these gains, we must work to improve health and nutrition in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia – regions that include large Muslim populations. GCC donors are well positioned to assist these populations with generosity, credibility, and understanding.
For example, the UAE – through the leadership of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed – has not only donated generously to fighting polio in Pakistan and globally; it has also worked tirelessly to combat the misperceptions that still hinder vaccination efforts. The UAE’s leadership of such efforts in northern Pakistan has benefited greatly from the longstanding relationship of trust between the people of the two nations.
This life-saving work draws upon expertise that Gulf institutions and individuals are uniquely suited to provide. Like the generosity of the Gulf donors at the Gavi conference, it suggests that this region is qualified to play a unique and deeply meaningful part in fighting extreme poverty and disease. In fact, I’m willing to bet on it.