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Bill Gates speaks at the Reinvented Toilet Expo in Beijing in November. (Gates Foundation Photo)

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has spent 20 years and $10 billion on issues of global health. In that time, the likelihood that a child would die before age 5 has been cut in half.

That’s thanks in large part to a persistent global effort to get vaccines to communities around the world. On a call with journalists on Wednesday, Bill Gates mentioned a handful of technologies that are helping lean nonprofits have an outsized impact.

  • Global surveillance for polio. A global reporting network underpins efforts to eradicate the polio virus once and for all. Health staff around the world report cases of acute flaccid paralysis in children, which may indicate polio. Stool samples are then tested for the virus and health workers can then map the disease.
  • Genome sequencing and data visualizations to fight malaria. Last year, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation launched an initiative to better understand mosquito genetics with the eventual goal of using gene-driven technology to suppress or replace mosquito populations that carry malaria. Separately, a data project from the nonprofit PATH and Seattle-based data visualization firm Tableau is identifying malaria outbreaks and predict where it might turn up next. “We’ve realized that the malaria burden varies quite a bit from location to location, and so there are some very advanced scientific ways that now are tracking to make sure the bed nets and other interventions are going exactly to where they need to go,” Gate said.
  • Immunotherapy research for future vaccines. The massive investments in cancer treatments that target the immune system could have spillover benefits in the fight against infectious diseases, Gates said. “A lot of these programs like Inovio, BioNTech, and a lot of the big pharma guys, the immunotherapy work they’re doing on cancer gives us insights into how we make vaccines.”

Gates is drumming up support to replenish four funds that invest in health projects worldwide. Despite the success of the investments, Bill and Melinda Gates are worried that the fundraising targets may not be met due to “level of distraction” caused by domestic issues in rich countries.

“We have to make these investments because when you do, people will stay where they are,” Melinda Gates said on the call. “They want to stay in their communities and live a healthy life and form — you know, get a great job and form a great economy where they are.”

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