Photo: AP Photo//Aftab Alam Siddiqui
Since leaving Microsoft, Bill Gates has been spending time trying to solve some of the world’s biggest problems with The Gates Foundation, particularly the infectious diseases that still cause millions of deaths in the developing world. Wired reports that, at a Royal Academy of Engineering summit, Gates harshly criticised capitalism for having fundamentally flawed priorities:
“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.”
The result of what Gates called a “flaw in the pure capitalistic approach” is that advances in treatments for things like malaria depend on the generosity of individuals and a select few companies. Gates’ foundation is one of the only games in town for treatments and education people desperately need, and little is being done to change that.
It’s an unfortunate truth. There’s not much profit for drug companies in producing new and better medicines for people that can’t really pay for them. Diseases suffered by the wealthy, like heart disease and cosmetic treatments like those for baldness will always command a higher price.
And it doesn’t necessarily need to be a medical breakthrough, Gates argues. The inability to refrigerate vaccines without electricity leads to thousands of unnecessary deaths.
Unless something changes, it’s going to remain hard to attract money and talent to work on these problems instead of more lucrative ones.
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