In a post on his blog, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation co-chair Bill Gates highlights advances in global health, medical research, and climate action that he and his wife and their foundation helped support in 2018.
Noting that he believes the world is slowly transitioning to a broader understanding of well-being, Gates took stock of several areas in which he and the foundation work. The area of Alzheimer's disease research, in which he personally invested $100 million in 2017 through a venture capital fund and startups, saw two positive trends: the emergence of new hypotheses about how the brain cells break down in Alzheimer's patients, and a greater focus on facilitating more and better access to data. The next challenge, according to Gates, is to develop more efficient ways to recruit patients for clinical trials early in the disease's progression — perhaps by developing a simple, reliable diagnostic tool that could help accelerate the pre-screening of participants.
Efforts to eradicate polio, in which the Gates Foundation has long partnered with Rotary International, saw a setback in 2018, with twenty-nine cases worldwide, up from twenty-two in 2017, even as improved oral vaccines were being tested. "I underestimated how hard it would be to vaccinate children in places where there's political violence and war," Gates writes, addressing a key reason why polio has remained endemic in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And a hundred years after the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918 killed fifty million people globally, Gates warns that we are still unprepared to deal with a new pandemic. To make the most of ongoing efforts to develop a universal flu vaccine — a goal the foundation is funding through a Grand Challenge initiative — Gates calls on national governments to ramp up efforts to develop a global monitoring system that would facilitate quick and effective responses to disease outbreaks.
In the area of clean energy, the Breakthrough Energy Ventures, a group of business leaders, entrepreneurs, and venture capitalists launched in 2016 and led by Gates, announced its first investments. Separate from his work with the Gates Foundation, Gates said he plans to speak out in 2019 about the need for the United States to take a leading role in nuclear power research. "Nuclear is ideal for dealing with climate change, because it is the only carbon-free, scalable energy source that's available twenty-four hours a day," he writes. "The problems with today's reactors, such as the risk of accidents, can be solved through innovation."
Gates also writes that he is committed to learning and thinking this year about two key areas in which technology has the potential both to improve quality of life and to raise ethical issues — the balance between privacy and innovation, and the use of technology in education.
"For most of human history, we have been focused on living longer by fighting disease and trying to grow enough food for everyone. As a result, life spans have gone up dramatically," he writes. "Technology has played a key role in that through vaccines, medicines, and improved sanitation. We still need a lot of innovation to solve problems like malaria or obesity, but we are also going to be focusing more on improving the quality of life. I think this will be the thrust of many big breakthroughs of the future."
(Photo credit: UK DFID)