Some issues in world health are difficult to tackle through the usual methods. In developing countries, many governments struggle even to provide day-to-day health care and don’t have the resources to research major diseases as well. Where these diseases don’t also affect rich countries, they can too easily go ignored, and there’s limited incentive for pharmaceutical companies to develop treatments because they couldn’t expect much return on their investment. There may also be a shortage of funds to tackle the secondary effects of illness in vulnerable populations. In all these areas, philanthropy can make a difference.
What motivates the philanthropist?
People get involved in philanthropy for many different reasons, but chief among them is that they realize their money can give them the power to make a difference to problems that have touched their personal lives. Jennifer Douglas was called to the bar recently but she’s better known in her native Nigeria for helping people affected by AIDS through the Gede Foundation. Having seen suffering around her as she grew up, she decided to intervene to provide support to those whose health is impacted by the experience.
One of the biggest success stories in modern philanthropy is the near eradication of the polio virus. Bill and Melinda Gates put much of their fortune into a vaccination campaign against this crippling disease. Despite recent setbacks caused by myths about the vaccine and by social breakdown in parts of the Middle East, real hope remains that polio could be wiped out altogether.
Efforts to fight malaria have taken several paths, from a campaign to provide mosquito nets to medicines to tackle the disease to work on eliminating the mosquitoes that carry it. Much of the work has been financed by ExxonMobil, which puts millions of dollars into projects in Asia and Africa. Because malaria can weaken people for years before killing them, any reduction in cases helps economically and makes developing nations better able to tackle it themselves.
Though they are best known as killers in the West, non-communicable diseases like heart disease, stroke and some cancers impact lives worldwide. Tackling them helps people to live longer lives and thereby contributes to knowledge economies and to the wider practice of care. The Medtronic Foundation specializes in funding project work in this area.
Thanks to the involvement of philanthropists in projects around the world, many medical issues are receiving attention where they would really struggle otherwise, ad gradually this is changing lives for the better. Although new diseases continue to evolve and new issues are arising as vaccines lose their efficacy, there are many problems that can be solved, and solved permanently, if the funding is there.
Many rich people still try to show off their wealth by spending their money on big estates, monuments and other vanity projects. Putting money into health causes has a much bigger impact, and for those who simply want the world to know their names, what better way to be remembered than as somebody who saved millions of lives?