Gates Foundation 'more than doubling down' on nutrition

A special panel on nutrition (from left to right): Chairwoman of the Republican Women's Policy Committee Rep. Renee Ellmers, U.S. Department of Agriculture Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Co-chair Melinda Gates and Devex President and Editor-in-Chief Raj Kumar. Photo by: Meg Richardson / Devex

Speaking Tuesday on Capitol Hill, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Co-chair Melinda Gates said her foundation — the world’s largest private foundation — will be “more than doubling down” on nutrition investments in the lead-up to the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Gates addressed members of Congress and global development professionals in Washington, D.C., stressing that investment in nutrition is required for success in other sectors of development.

“If we want to cut [childhood deaths] in half … nutrition underlies more than half of those deaths and so it’s fundamentally important,” Gates said.

As part of the foundation’s upcoming push for nutrition, Gates said her organization will invest in the “preconception period” — ensuring that adolescent girls have access to proper nutrition before getting pregnant. She said it will invest in the first two years of life by promoting breast-feeding and fortifying foods. It will conduct nutrition research to better understand “the markers in the womb” that indicate a child’s future health, for example. It will invest in advocacy in country to engage with ministers of health and agriculture. And it will invest in data and evidence.

“Our foundation is well-known for collecting good data, going out and doing research where evidence doesn’t exist so that if we’re putting down our own dollars … we know that we’re making smart investments.”

But Gates was quick to point out that money from the Seattle-based foundation is a “drop in the bucket” when it comes to investment in nutrition, adding that results-driven investment for an issue of such a large scale requires financial commitment from in country governments as well as the U.S. government.

Immediately following her address during a panel discussion moderated by Devex Editor-in-Chief Raj Kumar, Gates highlighted her experience in Zambia visiting a clinic where tuberculosis patients would go to receive medicine. The drugs provided to the patients were funded in part by the Gates Foundation.

“It turned out the people couldn’t take their tuberculosis medicine if they didn’t have food in their stomach,” Gates said, cautioning that without food, there won’t be incentives for health programs of this nature.

Investing in nutrition is necessary not just for individuals and families, but for entire economies, said Gates, adding that successful nutrition investments work by jump-starting a “virtuous cycle.”

And one of the best ways to make sure families are fed, according to Gates, is to invest in women and girls.

“If you invest in women and girls, they invest in everybody else in the family … you make sure they can feed their family, they will get their kids into school,” Gates said. “And when you get kids fed and into school and cognitively able to learn … you light up their potential and that has a ripple effect.”

An official announcement detailing the Gates Foundation's new nutrition investments is expected in the coming weeks.

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About the author

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    Jeff Tyson

    Jeff is a former global development reporter for Devex. Based in Washington, D.C., he covers multilateral affairs, U.S. aid, and international development trends. He has worked with human rights organizations in both Senegal and the U.S., and prior to joining Devex worked as a production assistant at National Public Radio. He holds a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and a bachelor’s degree in international relations and French from the University of Rochester.