Why Gates gave: What $279 million will do for global health

A historic donation will enable the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation to forecast health scenarios.

Anyone can turn on a computer and find an interactive map created by the UW’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. They can search county by county for topics such as cancer, life expectancy, physical activity, diabetes, and causes of death. The map shows, for instance, that in Spokane County, life expectancy for women born in 1986 is 79.17 years. For men, it’s 72.46. King County’s numbers trend a little better. Grays Harbor County, just a little worse. But the data here in Washington state looks much better, overall, than in parts of Kentucky, West Virginia and much of the Deep South.

Resources like this offer crucial insight into America’s health problems—and stimulate research and support to figure out how to address them. This work comes out of the IHME, an independent global health research center based at UW Medicine. Established in 2007, the institute pursues a critical mission: providing impartial, evidence-based views of trends in global health to inform the work of organizations, policy makers and researchers. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will invest $279 million over the next 10 years to help the IHME expand its work and to support the efforts of the University’s Population Health Initiative. It is the largest gift in UW history.

The IHME’s research agenda is informed by an oversight group of leaders from hospitals, universities and global health organizations like UNICEF. Each year, the institute produces more than 200 scientific papers and has become a trusted source of data for the World Bank, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the National Institutes of Health, among others.

The institute explores and measures the world’s most prevalent and costly health problems and looks at the effectiveness of efforts to address them. At the center of the institute’s Global Burden of Disease study, UW researchers work with partners in nearly 130 countries on projects such as the study of air quality, stemming the spread of the Zika virus and helping nations understand the true nature of their populations’ health problems.

The grant builds upon a long history of Gates Foundation investments to the UW in areas including library science, law, education and global health. Last fall, the Gates Foundation donated $210 million toward a building to serve as a hub for faculty and others in the Population Health Initiative. This new gift of $279 million will be used specifically for work in three areas: forecasting future scenarios to help plan population health priorities, tracking how health resources are spent throughout the world, and supporting the IHME’s work coordinating the Global Burden of Disease project.