Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates has pledged $40 million to the Indonesia Health Fund, dedicated to combating diseases such as tuberculosis, polio, HIV-AIDS, and malaria both in and outside of Indonesia.
The fund was set up through a cooperation between the Seattle-based Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Tahir Foundation, owned by Mayapada chief executive Dato’ Sri Tahir.
“In many countries, the very wealthy don’t have time to fund causes. To assemble this group and get [the wealthy] involved in giving is amazing,” Gates told the Jakarta Globe.
Gates, who is the richest person in the world according to Forbes, visited Jakarta on Saturday for the launch of the fund. He signed a memorandum of understanding with Tahir and eight other Indonesian business figures on Saturday, who each committed $5 million.
Other business figures include Intiland chief executive Hendro Gondokusumo, Samali Hotel and Resorts chief executive Adrian Bramantyo Musyanif, Ted Sioeng of Sioeng Group and Modernland president commissioner Luntungan Honoris.
“This is a milestone for health as a philanthropic cause here in Indonesia,” said Gates, who donates 95 percent of his income, about $4 billion annually, to the Gates Foundation. “Once you get involved in health, it’s hard not to stay involved,” he added.
Indonesia, along with 10 other countries, were officially certified by the World Health Organization to be polio-free last month.
Despite that achievement, malaria remains rampant in the country.
According to Gates, one of the biggest issues in combating diseases such as polio and malaria is giving everybody equal access to vaccines.
“Vaccines are magic. Smallpox was killing 2 million children every year, then some people went out and made sure every body got this vaccine. They eventually drove the cases to absolutely zero,” he said.
However, the problem is in funding these research and innovation efforts, Gates added.
“The rich countries don’t pay because they don’t have malaria and the poor countries don’t because they don’t have the money, and so it’s become a dilemma,” Gates said, adding that one of the ways to tackle the problem was to give a huge incentive for drug companies to invent new drugs and vaccines.
“Trials are very expensive and we demand super high quality and very complex trials to look for any side effect at all. It also requires incredible and specific skill.
“Companies must seek innovations in providing equal access to vaccines,” Gates said.
Another solution, according to Gates, is tiered-pricing.
According to the tiered-pricing model, the rich pay a higher price for the medicine, the middle classes pay the median price, and the poor pay nothing, he said.
“Historically, we haven’t done a good job at this. A new medicine will be introduced and poorer countries won’t receive it for 20 years.
“You wait until the cost of manufacturing goes down instead of figuring out how to do the tiered pricing from the beginning,” he added.
According to Gates, about 70 percent of children in Indonesia currently, have access to vaccines.
But while this is higher than most countries, he urged Indonesia to continue improving.
“If you actually step back and look at the last 50 years, this is an amazing period by any measure — lifespan, democracy — and Indonesia is two-thirds of the way towards achieving these things,” he said. The Jakarta Globe