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Gates targets global health crisis



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(CNN) -- Some of the world's most pressing health problems may be a little closer to being solved following the award of $450 million to 43 innovative projects aimed at fighting diseases in the developing world.

The research proposals were all submitted in response to the Gates Foundation's Grand Challenges in Global Health Initiative, which called for solutions to 14 of the most serious health threats in developing countries.

As well as targeting killer diseases such as AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, its goals include improved childhood vaccines, controlling insects that cause disease, improving the nutritional content of staple crops and creating more accurate means of idenitfying, recording and tracking disease in poor countries.

The Gates Foundation, established by Microsoft founder Bill Gates who donated most of the cash, said the Grand Challenges attracted more than 1,500 research proposals from scientists in 75 countries.

"We were overwhelmed by the scientific community's response," said Dr. Harold Varmus, chair of the international scientific board that guides the Grand Challenges initiative.

"Clearly, there's tremendous untapped potential among the world's scientists to address diseases of the developing world."

While billions of dollars are spent on researching life-saving technologies and medicines each year, only a small fraction of that is targeted at the health concerns of the world's poorest nations.

One of the goals of the Gates Foundation is to create ways of tackling sickness and disease that are cheap, portable, accessible and easy to implement.

For example, a team at Tufts University in the U.S. received a $5 million grant to work on creating children's vaccines that don't require constant refrigeration, while a Canadian team from the University of Saskatchewan received $5.6 million to develop a one-dose oral whooping cough vaccine.

Up to 27 million children in the developing world fail to receive basic immunizations each year.

Other projects in the U.S., Australia and Germany received $47 million to look at ways of genetically modifying the nutritional content of staple crops such as bananas, rice and cassava.

Poor nutrition contributes to half of the almost 11 million deaths among children under five each year

Another project at the University of Washington in the U.S. received $15.4 million to develop a handheld device that would enable health workers to perform on-the-spot blood tests to check for bacterial infections and HIV-related illnesses.

And an international team of scientists based at London's Imperial College were given $20 million to work on finding a cure for latent tuberculosis.

"Science has revolutionized health in wealthy countries, while developing countries have been left to fight disease with only a handful of tools that are either grossly inadequate or far too expensive for widespread use," said Dr. Nirmal Kumar Ganguly, a member of the Grand Challenges scientific board and director-general of the Indian Council for Medical Research.

"The Grand Challenges initiative has provided the resources needed to bring together top scientists in both developed and developing countries to help address this imbalance."

British medical charity The Wellcome Trust ($27.1 million) and the Canadian Institutes of Health ($4.5 million) also contributed to the initiative.

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