SEATTLE — A decade ago, Bill Gates made his first major foray into the world of global health with a $750 million grant to boost immunization of the planet's poorest children.
On Friday, the Microsoft co-founder and his wife re-upped for the battle in a big way. The $10 billion, 10-year commitment to childhood vaccines they announced at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, ranks as the biggest philanthropic pledge ever to a single cause.
But despite the staggering amount of cash he's putting on the table, Gates was really making a plea for others to ante up.
The world's richest man has become adept at parlaying his superstar status and access to the corridors of power into gains for global health funding, and he leaned hard on world leaders gathered in Davos.
"Our commitment alone isn't enough," Gates said. "We need the increased generosity of the rich world governments."
Sweden, which is among the world's most generous nations, earned a place in the spotlight with the co-chairs of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Italy, which halved its foreign-aid funding last year, got a verbal slap from Gates.
Gates also applied his carrot-and-stick approach to the pharmaceutical industry, acknowledging the contributions of many companies but calling for more. His foundation helps fund the Access to Medicine Index, which rates drug companies on their performance in poor nations. The rankings motivate companies at the top to stay there and those at the bottom to work harder, Gates said.
Saving lives is the goal behind the Gateses' cheerful pressure and posturing. If funding is sufficient to immunize 90 percent of children in the developing world, more than 8 million deaths can be averted over the next decade, according to an analysis conducted for the Gates Foundation by researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
"We think the stage is set for extraordinary progress," said Melinda Gates.
The $10 billion pledge represents a doubling of Gates Foundation spending on vaccines. The Chronicle of Philanthropy said the amount is more than the entire assets of the Ford Foundation, America's second wealthiest foundation — after the Gates'.
"Basically, my reaction is: 'Wow,' " said Melinda Moree, former director of a Gates-funded project to develop a malaria vaccine. But governments have been slow to match the foundation's largesse, she pointed out.
"Does this challenge them to step up, or does this allow them to step back further?" asked Moree, now chief executive for BIO Ventures for Global Health.