Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Teams With Private Sector to Fight Zika

The World Health Organization warned people living in Zika-affected countries to delay plans to get pregnant due to the virus’ potential impact on babies.

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“I think it’s a good warning and I very much respect that the WHO came out that way,” Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation CEO Sue Desmond-Hellman told the FOX Business Network’s Maria Bartiromo.

Desmond-Hellman explained why the fight against Zika is such a priority for the Foundation.

“One of our big areas of focus is infectious diseases, particularly the ones that affect the poor, so Zika is the kind of thing that we care deeply about.  The issue with Zika virus is that in many people it’s a mild illness, not something to worry about.  But the problem with Zika is if pregnant women get Zika virus, their babies can have a significant, severe, birth defect,” said Desmond-Hellman.

According to Desmond-Hellman, the Foundation has been supporting a unique approach to stopping mosquitoes’ spread of Zika.

“It turns out that there is a bacteria, a harmless bacteria, called Wolbachia,” Desmond-Hellman continued, “The concept here is that the mosquitos get infected with this harmless bacteria and it interferes with them transmitting Zika.”

The Foundation’s fight against infectious diseases has not been a solo effort, it has set up programs to boost collaboration with the private sector in the battle against viruses such as Zika.

“We have tools to go to a company and say, “Look, if you work on Zika, if you work on Malaria with the charitable intent, we’ll invest in your company, we’ll give you a grant, we can do what’s called a volume guarantee to backstop their capital or use tiered pricing where they can have different prices in richer countries or poorer countries and in using these tools we can collaborate with private industry to get them to work on the causes we care about,” Desmond-Hellman said.

Desmond-Hellman warned that the U.S. needs to be prepared as the summer mosquito season approaches.

“It’s extremely important as summer approaches in the United States, that we not get complacent about Zika and the mosquitos, so far there’s been no mosquito born transmission of Zika in the U.S.  There’s been travelers infected and there’s been sexual transmission, but we need to be ready for Zika this summer,” said Desmond-Hellman.

Desmond-Hellman then discussed the Foundation itself, its giving pledge and the importance of giving to the issues important to you.

“Promise your wealth to the world, that you’ll give away at least half of your wealth during your life.   We believe that other people may or may not care about the same things we care about, but all giving is good,” Desmond-Hellman said.

Desmond-Hellman then explained the concept of precision public health and how it can help tackle some of the health challenges globally.

“Precision public health is our ability to tap into these precise tools like genetic sequencing, big data, self-monitoring, the power of computing today and use that to tackle illnesses like HIV, like malaria, like cervical cancer that effect communities that often involve the poor, so we can get the right interventions to populations in the right geography.  It’s a much more poor-friendly way to think about it,” said Desmond-Hellman.