The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation has been dialed in to helping the world’s most vulnerable populations since it opened its doors in 1944 when the foundation’s namesake established the clear directive to “relieve the suffering, distressed, and destitute.” Since then, it has awarded over $1 billion in grants, supporting the work of Catholic sisters around the world, homelessness, children with HIV, substance abuse prevention, access to safe water and more. In 1996, Hilton added another way to help the poor, disadvantaged and vulnerable with its Hilton Humanitarian Prize.
The $1 million prize was the largest of its kind, and was monetarily equal to that of the Nobel and Templeton prizes. In 2005, the foundation’s board decided to raise the amount from the original $1 million to $1.5 million and in 2015, the board jacked it up to $2 million.
Two million bucks is a nice chunk of change for any organization, but to even have a chance at winning that check, the group has to be extraordinary in the eyes of the Hilton Humanitarian Prize jurors. This year, the jury of seven chose the Task Force for Global Health.
This Atlanta-based outfit is an international organization with one goal in its sights: to ensure that everyone in the world has a chance at a healthy and productive life. The task force focuses its efforts on eight areas of global health related to neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), field epidemiology, public health information technology, and healthcare workforce development. Its approach is collaborative in nature, based on the understanding that global health challenges cannot be solved by a single entity alone.
Everything that the task force is doing is right up Hilton’s alley. It advocates for the health needs of the world’s poor, it’s responsive, and its impact is measurable. And while the task force doesn’t subscribe to bureaucratic intransigence, it has formed what it refers to as “unlikely partnerships” with groups that are often subject to governmental red tape like the World Bank, World Health Organization, and the United Nations Development Program in an effort to eliminate NTDs.
NTDs are one of the more pressing global health challenges, and there are plenty of key actors in this arena working toward their elimination. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is one of the biggest funders of NTD research and prevention, other funders paying attention include Good Ventures, Helmsley, Izumi, and the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, just to name a few.
(We make it our business to keep an eye on NTD funders, given that many of these lesser known diseases, like river blindness, can be pretty horrific.)
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In the NTD space, the task force is working to eliminate blinding trachoma, river blindness, and lymphatic filariasis. Indeed, most funders in this space focus on specific NTDs, and those three are among the most common. This brings me to one of the more interesting facets of the task force’s work and what the Hilton Humanitarian Prize will likely support in the coming years—noncommunicable diseases (NCDs).
According to the press release, the task force has started to look at and address “the growing epidemic of NCDs,” which have now surpassed infectious diseases as one of the leading causes of death in least-developed countries.
In developed countries, plenty of attention is paid to NCDs like heart disease and diabetes. In poorer countries, not so much. A few big organizations have an eye on NCDs, including the Medtronic Foundation, which has a history of backing projects in this area for underserved populations in India and other least-developed countries. Additionally, the Abbott Fund supports the International Diabetes Federation, which has a presence in over 160 countries. This is a surprisingly uncrowded funding field. Surprising because 38 million people around the world die from NCDs, with nearly 75 percent of those deaths occurring in low- and middle-income countries.
The task force isn’t changing course from NTDs to NCDs; rather, it's examining its “expertise and experience in getting vaccines and essential medicines to developing countries” to determine how it could be helpful in addressing “some aspect of NCDs.” It has some serious pull, not to mention plenty of powerful partners. It certainly has the potential to bend the mortality curve for the 28 million poor people that die every year due to NCDs.