At a recent forum on philanthropy in Washington, D.C., Bill Gates talked up the progress against diseases like malaria and made this prediction: "I believe in my lifetime, infectious diseases can be eliminated."
If that comes to pass, and the battle in poor countries against infectious diseases really does turn a decisive corner, what will be next for global health funders? One obvious answer is that these funders will begin prioritizing the health threats we're so familiar with in wealthy countries—but which often do even more damage in the Global South because of a lack of basic preventative healthcare.
We've written about a few funders that already think along these lines, and the Medtronic Foundation is one of them. It has a history of throwing its weight behind efforts to reduce the incidence of chronic conditions in both developed and developing countries around the world. Its latest project is taking aim at diabetes and heart disease in India, a country where many other funders are still focused on battling infectious diseases.
The Medtronic Foundation has given $1 million to support the implementation of the HealthRise India project. The three-year health access project is on a mission to improve the management of heart disease and diabetes in underserved populations across the local communities of Udaipur, Rajasthan, and Shimla, Himachal Pradesh. Medtronic has tapped the Catholic Health Association of India (CHAI) and the Health Institute for Mother and Child (MAMTA) to help forward HealthRise’s mission.
CHAI is working to raise community awareness of heart disease and diabetes, strengthen the primary care capacities of local healthcare providers, and advocate for policy changes that prioritize NCDs in the healthcare services. MAMTA is focusing its work on improving heart disease and diabetes diagnostics within existing public health systems. The organization is also undertaking technology-based projects to foster patient empowerment and make healthcare services more affordable and accessible.
Given that India faces a disproportionate neglected tropical disease (NTD) burden, plagued by scourges such as lymphatic filariasis and trachoma, it comes as no surprise that massive global health NGOs like the Gates Foundation and the Carter Center are giving plenty of funding attention to rid India (and the world at large) of NTDs. Plus, India runs one of the world’s largest NTD programs.
The same cannot be said for NCDs, despite the fact that supporting measures in the prevention and treatment of such diseases has the potential to favorably bend the global mortality curve in a big way. Medtronic’s support in this space continues to be an anomaly, and by the looks of things, the foundation’s funding is becoming increasingly important. That's especially true in countries like India, which is in the midst of a diabetes crisis, while heart disease is soaring.