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Tedtalks - Bill Gates unplugged

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Remarkable people... unmissable talks... free to the world. TED - Ideas Worth Spreading [Applause] I wrote letters last week talking about the work of the foundation, sharing some of the problems. And Warren Buffet had recommended I do that being honest about what was going well, what wasn't, and making it kind of an annual thing. A goal I had there was to draw more people in to work on those problems, because I think there are some very important problems that don't get worked on naturally. That is, the market does not drive the scientists, the communicators, the thinkers, the governments to do the right things. And only by paying attention to these things and having brilliant people who care and draw other people in can we make as much progress as we need to. So this morning I'm going to share two of these problems and talk about where they stand. But before I dive into those I want to admit that I am an optimist. Any tough problem, I think it can be solved. And part of the reason I feel that way is looking at the past. Over the last century, average lifespan has more than doubled. Another statistic, perhaps my favorite, is to look at childhood deaths. As recently as 1960, 110 million children were born, and 20 million of those died before the age of five. Five years ago, 135 million children were born -- so, more and less than 10 million of them died before the age of five. So that's a factor of two reduction of the childhood death rate. It's a phenomenal thing. Each one of those lives matters a lot. And the key reason we were able to it was not only rising incomes but also a few key breakthroughs: Vaccines that were used more widely, For example, measles was four million of the deaths back as recently as 1990 and now is under 400,000. So we really can make changes. The next breakthrough is to cut that 10 million in half again. And I think that's doable in well under 20 years. Why? Well there's only a few diseases that account for the vast majority of those deaths: diarrhea, pneumonia and malaria. So that brings us to the first problem that I'll raise this morning, which is how do we stop a deadly disease that's spread by mosquitoes? Well, what's the history of this disease? It's been a severe disease for thousands of years. In fact, if we look at the genetic code, it's the only disease we can see that people who lived in Africa actually evolved several things to avoid malarial deaths. Deaths actually peaked at a bit over five million in the 1930s. So it was absolutely gigantic. And the disease was all over the world. A terrible disease. It was in the United States. It was in Europe. People didn't know what caused it until the early 1900s, when a British military man figured out that it was mosquitoes. So it was everywhere. And two tools helped bring the death rate down. One was killing the mosquitoes with DDT. The other was treating the patients with quinine, or quinine derivatives. And so that's why the death rate did come down. Now, ironically, what happened was, it was eliminated from all the temperate zones, which is where the rich countries are. So we can see: 1900, it's everywhere. 1945, it's still most places. 1970, the U.S. and most of Europe have gotten rid of it. 1990,you've gotten most of the northern areas. And more recently you can see it's just around the equator. And so this leads to the paradox that because the disease is only in the poorer countries, it doesn't get much investment. For example, there's more money put into baldness drugs than are put into malaria. Now, baldness, it's a terrible thing. [Laughter] And rich men are afflicted. And so that's why that priority has been set. But, malaria -- even the million deaths a year caused by malaria greatly understate its impact. Over 200 million people at any one time are suffering from it. It means that you can't get the economies in these areas going because it just holds things back so much. Now, malaria is of course transmitted by mosquitoes. I brought some here, just so you could experience this. We'll let those roam around the [Laughter[ auditorium a little bit. There's no reason only poor people should have the experience. [Laughter] [Applause] Those mosquitoes are not infected. So we've come up with a few new things. We've got bed nets. And bed nets are a great tool. What it means is the mother and child stay under the bed net at night, so the mosquitoes that bite late at night can't get at them. And when you use indoor spraying with DDT and those nets you can cut deaths by over 50 percent. And that's happened now in a number of countries. It's great to see. But we have to be careful because malaria -- the parasite evolves and the mosquito evolves. So every tool that we've ever had in the past has eventually become ineffective. And so you end up with two choices. If you go into a country with the right tools and the right way, and you do it vigorously, you can actually get a local eradication. And that's where we saw the malaria map shrinking. Or, if you go in kind of half-heartedly, for a period of time you'll reduce the disease burden, but eventually those tools will become ineffective, and the death rate will soar back up again. And the world has gone through this where it paid attention and then didn't pay attention. Now we're on the upswing. Bed net funding is up. There's new drug discovery going on. Our foundation has backed a vaccine that's going into phase three trial that starts in a couple months. And that should save over two thirds of the lives if it's effective. So we're going to have these new tools. But that alone doesn't give us the road map. Because the road map to get rid of this disease involves many things. It involves communicators to keep the funding high, to keep the visibility high, to tell the success stories. It involves social scientists, so we know how to get not just 70 percent of the people to use the bed nets, but 90 percent. We need mathematicians to come in and simulate this, to do Monte Carlo things to understand how these tools combine and work together. Of course we need drug companies to give us their expertise. We need rich-world governments to be very generous in providing aid for these things. And so as these elements come together, I'm quite optimistic that we will be able to eradicate malaria. Now let me turn to a second question, a fairly different question, but I'd say equally important.

Video Details

Duration: 20 minutes and 16 seconds
Year: 2009
Country: United States
Language: English
Producer: TEDTalks
Views: 384
Posted by: nioinlove on Feb 11, 2009

Bill Gates hopes to solve some of the world's biggest problems using a new kind of philanthropy. In a passionate and, yes, funny 18 minutes, he asks us to consider two big questions and how we might answer them. (And see the Q&A on the TED Blog.)

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