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Gates Foundation wants global health push

By Tom Evans, CNN
Dr. Tachi Yamada, president of the Gates Foundation's global health program, highlights pregnancy-related deaths.
Dr. Tachi Yamada, president of the Gates Foundation's global health program, highlights pregnancy-related deaths.
  • New strategies would cut pregnancy-related deaths, Gates Foundation official says
  • U.S. now spends almost $8 billion a year on global health initiatives
  • Dependence is huge concern for many in aid community
  • Economist Dambisa Moyo sees need for exit strategies from "foreign purse"

(CNN) -- Global philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates are launching a major push to convince the United States to maintain government spending on worldwide health initiatives, despite the financial crisis and a soaring U.S. budget deficit.

Their goal is cut almost by half the number of child deaths each year, from 9 million to 5 million.

"This is a tragedy of almost unimaginable proportions," Dr. Tachi Yamada, president of the Global Health Program at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, told CNN's Christiane Amanpour. "And how we address this problem will reflect on whether we as citizens of the world are prepared to address the biggest problems in the world."

Yamada also highlighted the serious problem of women who die in pregnancy and childbirth. "There are many, many mothers who are dying at birth, many people who are not being addressed as to their biggest problems in health, and we think that this is something that is a cause of the greatest inequities in the world and should be corrected."

The Gates Foundation estimates that the implementation of new strategies would reduce the number of women who die in pregnancy and childbirth by approximately a third.

Foundation officials are highlighting four key strategies as a key to success for better health globally: immunizing 90 percent of children with vaccines, stepping up the fight against malaria, providing basic health services to at least 75 percent of pregnant women and newborns, and treating more people for diarrhea and pneumonia.

Video: Gates Foundation pushes health

The Gates Foundation said it cannot solve all these problems alone, despite having a budget that is bigger than the economies of many countries, and it says it needs the help of the United States and other governments. In an interview, Melinda Gates said, "Our money is tiny," despite the billions of dollars of resources available to her organization.

Yamada reinforced that point of view in his interview with Amanpour.

"The Gates Foundation is relatively new. We spend a significant amount of money in global health, but the amount of money we spend is small by comparison to the amount of money spent by the whole world and certainly by the amount of money that is needed in order to address the biggest problems in the world for mothers and children," he said. The U.S. now spends almost $8 billion a year on global health initiatives, a total that has risen sharply since 2001.

To critics of the Gates Foundation, who say it is trying to impose solutions on developing countries, Yamada responded, "We have no intention of controlling the health situations in countries. We work very closely with the World Health Organization and all other partners -- certainly the governments and the health systems and in the developing part of the world. But we do feel that there are problems that can be addressed and should be addressed."

Dependence is a huge concern for many in the aid community and for African leaders who are worried about their nations' sovereignty.

Economist Dambisa Moyo, author of "Dead Aid," has been a vocal critic of international aid policies for many years. In a CNN interview earlier this year, she said, "Even the diehard aid advocates would love to see a time when Africa can stand on its own two feet and does not need to rely on foreign assistance to provide public goods such as education, health care, infrastructure, and even security."

"I mean, we must ask the question, what type of a society is it? And are we truly independent if really all these types of public goods are actually still dependent on a foreign purse? And I really am aspiring for a time when we can have a serious discussion about exit strategies."