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Medical journal scolds Gates Foundation: Gates Response
  Puget Sound Business Journal (Seattle) - by Clay Holtzman
A leading medical journal has criticized the Seattle-based Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for lacking transparency, making too many grants to recipients in rich nations and not focusing its resources on the greatest health needs. The Lancet medical journal's edition published Friday had an analysis of Gates Foundation grants from 1998 through 2007, along with commentary on the study's findings. The analysis found that:
· Much of the foundation's research and development grants have gone to universities and institutions in high-income countries. The study even cites Seattle-based PATH, a global health organization that has received nearly $1 billion from Gates, and asks whether some organizations would be better characterized as agents of the foundation rather than independent grantees.
· The foundation has focused too heavily on selected diseases, malaria, for example, while other diseases may exact a greater toll. Specifically, the Lancet commentary points toward a "poor correlation between the foundation's funding and childhood disease priorities."
· A lack of transparency in decision making and planning has caused "serious anxiety" and questions about the Gates family's "whimsical governance principle" in setting priorities. "What are the foundation's plans for the future? It is hard to know for sure," according to the Lancet's editorial.
The London and New York-based Lancet praises the contributions to global health made by the foundation. General awareness and funding have been increased, the report said. Specifically, the report cites the foundation's initial gift of $750 million made in 1999 to the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), and founding of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington as particularly important accomplishments.
The Lancet editorial makes five recommendations to the foundation: Improve governance, increase transparency and accountability, target grants to better reflect disease burdens, invest in health systems in low-income countries and listen to and engage allies.
The Gates Foundation released a statement in response to the Lancet articles. "We welcome this article and its findings. We try to be very thoughtful about how to target our resources, and we constantly seek out feedback from outside experts and stakeholders. In the end, we use our best judgment to determine where our funding can achieve the greatest reductions in health inequity around the world. We are committed to communicating information about our strategy, grants, and results, and are using our website to make it easier to find this information," the foundation said.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, founded by Microsoft Corp. (NASDAQ: MSFT) co-founder Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda, is the world's largest private philanthropy with assets of nearly $27.5 billion, as of April 1, 2009. The foundation has three primary program areas: global health, global development and U.S. programs.
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