Quick, What's the World's Biggest Health Problem? (And How Is Gates Tackling It?)

The Gates Foundation’s malnutrition-related funding began around 2000 when it gave Johns Hopkins University over $31 million to study the relationship between Vitamin A and micronutrients to improve childhood and infant mortality in developing countries.

Up until last year, Gates’ dedication to malnutrition seemed to be stalling out as the foundation awarded only 10 to 15 related grants annually. Of course, this is Gates we’re talking about, so those 10 to 15 yearly grants totaled some $500 million over the course of around 15 years.

Last summer, just when we thought that malnutrition was becoming a snoozer of a funding topic for Gates, it dropped a $776 million bomb on us when it announced that it was dedicating that remarkable sum to improve the health and nutrition of women and children around the world. The plan is to spread that money out over the next six years to support nutrition efforts internationally.  

Related: Big Plans, Even for This Mega-Funder: A Super-Sized Push on Nutrition by Gates

We know. Big is where Gates lives. But this is big even for Gates. Now, more details are emerging about how Gates will escalate its attack on malnutrition, including recent news of a $100 million partnership with the Nigeria-based Dangote Foundation.

Before we talk about the details of this new partnership, let’s back it up for a minute to lay out some quick facts about malnutrition:

  • It’s the underlying cause of nearly 50 percent of worldwide deaths of children under five.
  • Around 25 percent of children around the world are stunted due to malnutrition.
  • It is the world’s largest health problem.

In other words, there are some good reasons that the Gates Foundation is going so big in this area. 

Gates’ partnership with Dagnote is targeting malnutrition in Nigeria. Nigeria has the highest number of stunted children in Africa. Which works out to approximately one in three children suffering from stunting, and around one in five children suffering from acute malnutrition. This is despite the fact that Nigeria has one of the fastest growing economies in Africa.

The Gates-Dagnote partnership is set to run for five years with the hopes of improving the lives of at least 5 million families in Nigeria by 2020. Although some of the details are still being worked out, the collaboration will include food fortification programs, encouraging healthier eating behaviors, local management of acute malnutrition, and local production of nutrient-rich foods.  

The Gates Foundation’s seemingly renewed interest in combating malnutrition isn’t another example of a funder applying a temporary fix to the age-old problem of global hunger. Instead, it’s an attempt to affect long-term global challenges on multiple fronts. Bill Gates explains, "Nutrition is one of the highest impact investments we can make in Nigeria’s future growth and prosperity. We know that well-nourished children are more likely to grow up to be healthy, fend off preventable diseases, achieve more in school and even earn higher income as adults."

And Gates isn’t the only funder in this fight. The European Commission, DFID, and other government agencies are paying attention, here. So are other funders and NGOs like UNICEF, UBS, and the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, which joined forces for the $1 billion Power of Nutrition Fund.

Related: A Big New Fund for Children’s Nutrition is Off to a Strong Start

All that money and all that power have real potential to make a huge difference in the lives of millions of children and their families around the world.