7 things to know about Bill Gates’ annual letter

Each year, Bill Gates releases an annual letter on behalf of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to look back on progress made and lessons learned in his efforts to reduce extreme poverty and improve global health. These letters also seek to educate and inform the public on the effectiveness and importance of smart foreign aid and look ahead to the future.

This year, the focus is on vaccines — particularly the polio vaccine — as well as HIV/AIDS, malaria, agriculture and education. You can download an electronic copy on the Gates Foundation website, but to get you started, here’s a list of important points Gates makes in his letter:

1. Until polio is wiped out completely, the disease is still very much alive. The money that we will save by eradication will far exceed what we are spending on efforts now — it could save the world up to $50 billion over the next 25 years!

2. Vaccines are the most effective and cost-effective health tool invented. If we simply scale up existing vaccines in the five countries with the highest child mortality, we could save 3 million lives (not to mention more than $2.9 billion in treatment costs alone) over the next decade.

3. The fight against malaria is making huge strides. Of the 99 countries with the disease, 43 have decreased cases of the disease by more than 50 percent!

4. Bed nets can have a huge impact on the fight against malaria. Many amazing grassroots groups are helping by delivering bed nets. The Nothing But Nets campaign has recruited hundreds of thousands of individuals, as well as organizations like the United Methodist Church and National Basketball Association involved in the fight against malaria.

5. Neonatal deaths can be reduced by over 50 percent by increasing the number of births done by a skilled provider in a clinic and educating mothers on sanitary measures and proper child nutrition.

6. Although progress continues, the pace is still slow in fighting the AIDS epidemic. There are two fronts of this war that need to be tackled: treating those already infected and preventing new infections.

7. More attention needs to be given to agricultural development, since most poor people in the world feed their families and earn their living from farming. It has been proven that when farmers increase productivity, nutrition improves and hunger and poverty are reduced.

As Gates rightfully states, “Securing the conditions that will lead to a healthy, prosperous future for everyone is a goal I believe we all share.” We’re excited for the great strides The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will make in 2011!