More prevention, less cost.

Author:Uribe, Juanita

Preventive health care is gaining space on the agendas of the philanthropists as a way of optimizing the resources they manage. Not only is it important to cure, but also to attack the source of the problem, whether through education or sanitary infrastructure.

During the 1980s, a Colombian doctor, David Bersh, became famous in international public health circles because he had found the way to drastically reduce the incidence of diarrhea, a sickness that at the time was wreaking havoc among children. The news astounded the World Health Organization, and it won him the Sasakawa Health Prize, which in medicine is the closest thing to the Nobel Peace Prize.

But what is inspiring today about Bersh is his vision on differentiating between caring for the sick and promoting health.

"Medicine for everyone isn't possible in any country; health for everyone is possible in every country," he said. "That's because medicine is a problem for science, technology and investments; and health is a problem of education and behavior. And only a country that provides health for everyone can give medicine to those who need it when they need it," he added.

Although one of the first initiatives in the history of philanthropy was hospitals, until a decade or so ago, philanthropists had no significant role in public health. The 2005 Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness, for example, made no mention of philanthropy. And it wasn't needed. During the G8 Summit at Gleneagles that same year, there were enough promises of money that it wasn't necessary to rely on the private sector for financial help.

The 2008 financial crisis changed everything. At the G-20 Summit at Cannes in 2011, Bill Gates was invited to speak to world leaders on how the millennium development goals could be financed. He was willing to make available his experience in the private sector, and his checkbook, to change the world.

Since Bill and Melinda Gates launched their foundation in 2000, nearly $30 billion has been invested in various development programs, and of that, just in 2014, more than $1 billion was destined for health initiatives.

For Juan Pablo Uribe, executive director of the Santa Fe Foundation in Bogota, Colombia, and until recently sector manager of health for the World Bank in East Asia and the Pacific, the Gates Foundation transformed the way in which philanthropists participate in health. "The bet of Bill and Melinda Gates is so ambitious, so determined and so large, that it has...

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