Bill Gates discusses global health challenges at ASM Microbe 2016

As you may know, Kerafast recently exhibited at ASM Microbe 2016, a microbiology conference held just down the road from us here in downtown Boston. We enjoyed discussing the latest in unique microbiology reagents with researchers from around the world, and for every booth visitor, we donated $1 to the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health, as part of our mission to give back to scientific research. In addition to our exhibit hall activities, Kerafast team members took the opportunity to attend the conference sessions, which covered hot topics such as the Zika virus, antibiotic resistance and the microbiome.

Our booth at ASM Microbe 2016

Of note, Bill Gates was the conference’s opening keynote speaker. The session, entitled “A Conversation with Bill Gates: Bringing the Frontiers of Science to the Front Lines of Development”, featured Bill Gates being interviewed by Dr. Richard Besser, the Chief Health and Medical Editor of ABC News. The talk highlighted the importance of microbiology research for addressing a variety of critical global health challenges. Here, we summarize some of the key takeaways from the session.

  1. Investing in Global Health

    Gates discussed the concept of “catalytic philanthropy” – or the idea that a little bit of investment done properly can have a large impact. Examples he gave were supporting the invention of a new tool, such as a vaccine or drug, or improving a country’s primary healthcare delivery system. The Gates Foundation is focused on the most cost-effective, highest-impact interventions. Gates even put a number on it: the goal is to spend $1,000 or less to save one life. If an intervention costs any more than that, the Foundation doesn’t consider it a good investment for them.

Bill Gates session at ASM Microbe 2016

  1. Eradicating Disease

    The Gates Foundation is currently working to eradicate polio, which only remains in two countries: Pakistan and Afghanistan. Gates predicted the last polio case would come sometime next year, making polio only the second human disease ever to be eradicated. (The first was smallpox.)

    After polio, the Gates Foundation would like to see malaria eradicated. Gates stressed the importance of developing new innovations and technologies to accomplish this goal. One approach is to create a better malaria vaccine. Another is to use CRISPR gene editing technology, in combination with gene drives, to reduce or eliminate the mosquito population that spreads malaria, or to remove the species’ ability to carry the disease.

    Although the Foundation supports both polio and malaria eradication, Gates emphasized that the decision to eradicate a disease should not be taken lightly. As the number of patients drops toward zero, more money is spent per every case. Therefore, if you try to eradicate a disease and fail, you waste a lot of money. But, he said, if you do hit zero, the return on investment is huge, as funding is no longer needed to support prevention and intervention measures.

  1. Reducing Childhood Mortality

    Another Gates Foundation priority is reducing the number of childhood deaths. The good news is that childhood mortality has declined significantly over the last 25 years, from 9% of children dying before the age of five to 4.3%. The bad news is that still almost six million children die every year; much work remains, both in basic research and clinical translation of that research.

    The biggest causes of childhood death are diarrhea, pneumonia and malaria. Gates said these conditions are well-studied and tools are available to continue driving down their death rates. However, a better understanding of neonatal death – or why children die within the first 30 days of life – is critical. More discovery research will be required to successfully address this issue.

Gates at the podium

  1. Other Priorities

    Throughout the keynote session, Gates touched on several other global health priorities. One is achieving global health equity, so that children and adults in developing countries are no more likely to die than those in developed nations. One success story comes from treating epidemic meningitis. Good vaccines were available for this disease, but they were too expensive to implement across Africa. The Gates Foundation therefore supported the development of a cheaper vaccine, which ended up only costing 35 cents per dose. This allowed for vaccinations across Africa; now, the number of new cases is approaching zero.

    Other priorities discussed include addressing growing antibiotic resistance by discovering new antibiotics as well as devising a method to diagnose microbial resistance at the point-of-care; improving our preparedness and response to epidemics such as Ebola and Zika; and developing a deeper understanding of nutrition to improve human health.

In summary, the ASM Microbe 2016 opening keynote session provided an overview of some of the world’s greatest health challenges, underlining how those working in microbiology research can truly have an impact on human health. With much research and innovation needed to achieve the Gates Foundation’s global health objectives, it’s an exciting time with lots of opportunity in the microbial science field.

Do you work in this area of research? Check out our available microbiology reagents, including a Zika virus envelope (E) protein antibody and Trypanosoma cruzi CRISPR/Cas9 system. If there are other microbiology reagents you’d like to see added to our catalog, please email your suggestions to