Billionaires on a mission to cure the world

$$$: Gates, Zuckerberg and Brin have a total wealth of $210 billion — more than Portugal’s GDP.

Should we rely on the mega-rich to solve the world’s problems? Yesterday Bill Gates announced he would put $50 million into his latest mission — to cure Alzheimer’s. Rejoicing all round?

Right now there are 47 million Alzheimer’s sufferers in the world. By next year the cost of caring for these people is predicted to reach one trillion dollars. But for all those suffering through the disease, a solution may be on the horizon.

That is because billionaire Bill Gates is investing $50 million of his own money into fighting Alzheimer’s. For him, this mission is personal: “Several of the men in my family have this disease. I've seen how tough it is.”

In its early stages, Alzheimer’s causes memory loss. But as it takes hold, sufferers can experience severe symptoms including delusions and hallucinations. In America it has become the sixth leading cause of death.

The disease is prompted by the build up of deposits in the brain. Currently there is no cure but Gates is undeterred: “I believe there is a solution,” he declared.

And he may be just the man for the job. He has already invested more than $8 billion into tackling global health problems, including almost $2 billion for fighting malaria.

Gates is not the only mega-rich mogul splashing his cash to conquer illness. Last year Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan pledged $3 billion to “cure all disease” by the end of the 21st century. Inspired by the birth of their daughter Max, Chan claimed their aim was to give all children “long and rewarding lives”.

Also inspired by personal experience was Google co-founder Sergey Brin. His mother suffered from Parkinson’s disease. And he too carries a gene that increases his chance of developing the condition. According to The Economist, Brin sees the gene as a “bug in his personal code”, and that “By helping himself, he can therefore help others as well.” So far he has invested at least $50 million into finding a cure for Parkinson’s.

But should we rely on billionaires to solve the world’s problems?

Dollars for doctors

There’s a dark side, some say. For example, Gates’s money has flooded into Africa targeting high-profile diseases like AIDS. However, this may have caused staff shortages in other areas, leaving children vulnerable to other treatable diseases. When big decisions are made solely by powerful, often biased, individuals these imbalances become more likely. It is much safer for regulated governments to lead global healthcare initiatives, not the odd billionaire.

But entrepreneurs think bigger and take more risks, others respond. No government would dare declare its aim to end all disease. Zuckerberg has even said he expects some of his healthcare investments to fail. If just a couple pay off, millions of lives could be saved. Only big minds with big chequebooks can aim this high. When these billionaires succeed, we will all benefit.

You Decide

  1. Should it be compulsory to give money to charity?
  2. Would you like to live in a world without disease?

Activities

  1. Imagine you have £1 billion, and you have to give to it all away. You can split up the money to give to different causes, and these donations could go to charities, science experiments, or buildings like hospitals and libraries. How would you give the money away?
  2. Read The Guardian and Baltimore Sun articles in Become An Expert. Then give yourself 15 minutes to write an answer to the following question: What are the pros and cons of big charitable donations?

Some People Say...

“If you don't have imagination, you stop being human. Alzheimer's is the death of imagination.”

Devdutt Pattanaik

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
There have been over 400 Alzheimer’s drugs trials since 2002. While there are treatments for some of the symptoms, like memory loss, there is currently no drug which targets the disease itself. Gates has expressed his ambition to tackle the problem from different angles, including analysing the immune system of brain cells.
What do we not know?
We do not know if a cure for Alzheimer’s will be found. According to a survey by the Alzheimer’s Association, 59% of people incorrectly believe that the disease is a typical part of ageing. It also found that 37% of people incorrectly believe that you have to have a family history of the disease to be at risk.

Word Watch

47 million
According to the Alzheimer’s Association.
One trillion dollars
According to the World Alzheimer Report 2015.
Bill Gates
Made his fortune with the computer company Microsoft.
Deposits
The deposits are proteins called plaques and tangles. The build up of these deposits can be detected in adults as young as 30, however symptoms do not usually occur until old age.
Malaria
According to the World Health Organisation there has been a 29% decrease in the global malaria mortality rate since 2010.
Pledged
Through the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative the couple have pledged to donate 99% of their Facebook stock, worth $45 billion.
Parkinson’s
A chronic neurological condition. Its main symptoms include physical tremors, slow movement and muscle stiffness. These symptoms can make normal daily activities extremely difficult.
Diseases
See the Baltimore Sun article in Become An Expert.

Subjects