Today’s biggest philanthropy supports HSPH work

Bill and Melinda Gates
Bill and Melinda Gates

Winter 2014 ]

Much like the Rockefeller Foundation, which helped set the direction of public health in the early 20th century by supporting infectious disease eradica­tion efforts and the training of public health officers, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has shaped the landscape of public health in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, investing in such areas as vaccine development and women’s and children’s health. This mission includes important grants to Harvard School of Public Health—from research that could lead to a malaria vaccine to tubercu­losis and cervical cancer control policy development to a groundbreaking study on the global burden of disease. At the end of 2013, Gates Foundation grants to HSPH over the years totaled more than $94 million.

Among the most significant of these grants are:

Safe childbirth checklist

In 2011, the foundation awarded a $14.1 million, four-year grant to test the effec­tiveness of a checklist-based childbirth safety program with a randomized trial in 120 hospitals in India. A pilot study of the program—developed in conjunction with the World Health Organization by Atul Gawande, MD ’94, MPH ’99, HSPH professor of health policy and management and a surgeon at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital—dramatically improved health workers’ adherence to hand hygiene and other essential clinical practices.


The foundation has supported HIV/AIDS prevention efforts at the School with grants that include $25 million awarded in 2000 to create the AIDS Prevention Initiative in Nigeria (APIN). Founded and led by Phyllis Kanki, SD ’85, professor of immunology and infectious diseases, with local partners, this program trained clinicians and developed systems of care that continue to play a significant role in supporting HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention efforts in the country.

Maternal health

A three-year, $12 million grant awarded in 2011 supports the Maternal Health Task Force—a one-stop shop for maternal health information and research from around the world. Hosted at HSPH under the leadership of Ana Langer, professor of the practice of public health and coordinator of the Dean’s Special Initiative on Women and Health, the task force works with maternal health organizations to support research, provide training opportunities, and disseminate health information. It focuses on three countries struggling to improve maternal health: Nigeria, Ethiopia, and India.

Madeline Drexler