Speaking at the Global Grand Challenges Summit which is being held March 12 and the 13, Bill Gates said, “Capitalism means that there is much more research into male baldness than there is into diseases such as malaria, which mostly affect poor people.”
Capitalism, also know as, free market economy, has been dominant in the Western world since the breakup of feudalism, in which most of the means of production are privately owned and production is guided and income distributed largely through the operation of markets.
"Our priorities are tilted by marketplace imperatives," he said. "The malaria vaccine in humanist terms is the biggest need. But it gets virtually no funding. But if you are working on male baldness or other things you get an order of magnitude more research funding because of the voice in the marketplace than something like malaria,” said Gates.
It has always been more popular and profitable to cure a man of baldness or erectile dysfunction that is it is to cure malaria or AIDS. The breakdown comes from the interest of those with money and influence, it is not difficult to guess which two of those four examples most well-to-do men would choose to fund.
Gates who founded and runs the Gates Foundation with his wife Melinda which donates over $800 million annually to global health programs, identified a number of key challenges that he called "daunting". The first was feeding the hungry, stomping out infectious disease.
"For helping out the poorest we still need very simple things -- keeping vaccines refrigerated. But where there's no electricity, delivering diesel or propane is hard, we have tens of thousands of children who die because the vaccine supply chain doesn't have these tools," Gates said. "We still have a lot of deaths that really shouldn't take place."
Gates feels that the medical engineering community could focus its attention on slow-release drugs which are injected into the skin to deliver treatment over a long time period. "Why is it so much harder to get medicine used in the developing world versus the rich world? Because people have to go back and visit again and again. But if you could give TB medicine or birth control that would leak over 60 days, that would make a huge difference."
Gates was asked by an audience member whether it was possible to build a social company that is also profitable, Gates said: "There are a number of areas where you can build a product that has value in the rich world, for middle income countries and the poorest. Ideally you create a business model that lets you get your margin from the rich countries and the middle income countries, or through tiering customers in developing countries."
A malaria vaccine is feasible, but a key reason it has not been made is that the world has not committed enough human and financial resources to make it. Increased resources, effectively applied, are needed to overcome technical and scientific barriers to malaria vaccine development.
New resources have led to considerable progress in recent years. Additional resources even close to the level needed would further accelerate progress. Estimates on how much is needed vary, but, by way of example, pharmaceutical companies spend up to half a billion dollars or more to bring a single successful vaccine through licensure.
Malaria is a mosquito-borne disease that causes over 2.7 million deaths per year according to estimates by the World Health Organization. There is currently no vaccine.