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Bill and Melinda Gates annual letter highlights achievements, gaps in global health

By Jeckonia Otieno | Published Tue, February 14th 2017 at 17:23, Updated February 14th 2017 at 17:29 GMT +3
Melinda Gates
CS Sicily Kariuki with Melinda Gates of the Gates Foundation

Bill and Melinda Gates have dispatched their annual letter which outlines some of the key developments in the world of health especially of women and children.

In elaborating about the annual letter, Dr Ayo Ajayi, Africa director of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in Africa says that year after year input has been increasing and more women and children are targeted.

“We are looking for areas of strategic importance and we will also engage development partners,” said Dr Ajayi.

Ajayi notes that despite all the challenges, the world is making progress and it is important to “double our efforts.”

He argues that the political reorganization of the United States of America will not affect much the work of the foundation.

In this year’s letter, the couple behind the Bill and Melinda Gate Foundation, states that since 1990, a total of 122 million children have had their lives saved through various interventions.

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“More children survived in 2015 than in 2014. More survived in 2014 than in 2013, and so on. If you add it all up, 122 million children under five have been saved over the past 25 years. These are children who would have died if mortality rates had stayed where they were in 1990,” read the letter.

Some of the diseases that have been tackled through the foundation include diarrhoea, pneumonia and malaria. One of the ways in which this has been achieved is through helping parents to space their children as well as have fewer children.

The letter reads on: “When a mother can choose how many children to have, her children are healthier, they’re better nourished, their mental capacities are higher – and parents have more time and money to spend on each child’s health and schooling. That’s how families and countries get out of poverty.”

The letter states that all advances in society in nutrition, education, access to contraceptives, gender equity, economic growth are important.

The number of children who receive basic vaccines has increased and is now at 86 per cent with the gap between the richest and poorest countries being at its lowest as far as vaccination is concerned at only ten per cent. And this increased access to vaccines has led to decline in deaths of children.

The most common vaccines that are currently being administered include diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (DTP3) vaccines.

“The market wasn’t working for vaccines for poor kids because there weren’t enough buyers. But this gave us an opening. If we could create a purchasing fund so pharmaceutical companies would have enough customers, they’d have the market incentives to develop and produce vaccines,” reads the letter on how the increased production of vaccines was achieved.

The letter also points to the fact that there are still 19 million more children living in conflict zones, who are yet to be fully immunized.

The letter goes on, “Every year, one million infants die on the day they’re born. A total of nearly 3 million die in their first month of life. As the total number of childhood deaths has dropped, the proportion that are newborn deaths has gone up.”

Some of the leading causes of child deaths are pre-term births, encephalopathy, sepsis, congenital defects, neonatal disorders and pneumonia.

“For decades now, health experts have been struggling to treat or prevent these conditions, with disappointing results.”

The letter further points out that as many as 300 million women in developing countries have access to modern methods of contraception. This gives credence to spacing of children by at least three years which has been proved to give children a better chance to grow past their first year.