Marking her second anniversary as CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Sue Desmond-Hellmann has posted a letter on the foundation's site in which she lays out what the foundation has accomplished during her two years at its helm and where she hopes to lead it in the coming years.
With founding co-chairs Bill and Melinda Gates responsible for shaping and articulating the foundation’s vision, Desmond-Hellmann focuses her attention on boosting its impact as it executes on that vision. "As a foundation, we align ourselves and our strategies to shared global goals," the former oncologist, Genetech executive, and UCSF chancellor writes. "Equally, we push ourselves to adapt to a changing world and confront emerging challenges. Pandemics like the Zika virus, for example, demand that we work quickly with partners in the face of urgency. We want to go faster and further than ever before."
To that end, she writes, the foundation's senior leadership has dedicated a significant amount of time to building relationships with developing and donor country governments, international development agencies, private companies, and academic institutions, as well as other nonprofits and foundations. Desmond-Hellmann also has pushed the foundation to take risks that others will not or cannot. "It also means building on what we know to approach problems in new ways," she writes. "For example, I've begun exploring what can happen when the principles of precision medicine are applied to the field of public health."
In an interview with the New York Times, Desmond-Hellmann highlighted the foundation's accomplishments in areas such as tobacco reduction, neglected tropical diseases, and U.S. education reform. But she seemed most pleased about its ongoing efforts to eliminate polio. "It's almost like you're afraid to celebrate," she said, "but Nigeria has been polio-free now for over a year, and that means the continent of Africa has been wild polio-virus-free for over a year. [W]e're down to Pakistan and Afghanistan. I'm a believer. I think we're at the end of polio."