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Finding the solutions for development, health woes

By Yang Wanli (China Daily) Updated: 2015-11-12 11:01

Finding the solutions for development, health woes

Sue Desmond-Hellmann, CEO of The Bill& Melinda Gates Foundation, delivers a speech at the 11th anniversary meeting of Grand Challenges in Beijing in late October. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Applications for 'Grand Challenges China' initiative will be sought in early 2016

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the world biggest charitable institution, will team up with the National Natural Science Foundation of China, to establish a "Grand Challenges China" initiative in the near future, according to Sue Desmond-Hellmann, its CEO.

The two institutions will jointly select and fund scientific and technological research projects. The focus will be tackling major infectious diseases, reducing maternal and child mortality, strengthening translation capacity, advancing agriculture, food and nutrition outcomes, and alleviating challenges in other key areas that will benefit people in need in both China and beyond.

Request for Proposals, or RFPs, will be launched in early 2016, calling for innovative concepts, such as vaccines and therapeutics, with the potential to protect against the acquisition, progression or transmission of infectious diseases, or to provide a cure for infectious diseases, in resource-limited settings.

Research projects involving substantive collaboration between Chinese and international teams are encouraged to apply for grants of up to $1 million for four years.

The initiative reinforces that the greatest never take on small challenges but tough ones. So, the world's richest man and his wife have decided to fight extreme poverty and poor health in developing countries.

In the past, their foundation had been working hard to tackle three major problems in China: Tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and smoking that threaten health and hold back the country's development.

For instance, the foundation invested $50 million between 2008 and 2013 to cooperate with the Chinese government in providing HIV/AIDS screening and assistance in medical intervention.

It also played an important role to help China draft new policies on tobacco control, and popularized the significance of anti-smoking campaigns nationwide.

Now, the foundation is turning its attention to innovation in health and development solutions, so that not just the world's second-largest economy, but the rest of the world could benefit.

"If we're going to close the health gap between poor and wealthy nations, we need to speed the innovation cycle, generate good ideas more quickly, and turn those ideas into products more efficiently," said Desmond-Hellmann.

"The world needs China. We don't want to leave any doors closed in solving these big problems. And if you're not actively involving a country that includes one in every five human beings, that's leaving an awful lot of doors closed."

In October, China, for the first time, played the role of the host country for the foundation's 11th anniversary meeting of "Grand Challenges", a family of global initiatives to foster innovation in solutions to key global health and developmental problems.

To date, the Grand Challenges have invested $1 billion in over 2,000 projects in more than 80 countries, including 23 in China.

"We focus on only a few issues because we think that's the best way to have great impact," Desmond-Hellmann said. "To me, the 'Grand' in Grand Challenges implies that we will not settle for easy wins against small problems. In the limited time we all have on this Earth, let us set our sights on the biggest problems, the deepest sources of human suffering, and the heaviest burdens on human potential."

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