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Medicine The Almighty Buck

Gates Foundation Plans To Invest $10B Into Vaccines 477

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the finally-gates-gets-good-anti-virus dept.
Endloser writes "Bill Gates is going to invest $10 billion to provide vaccines to people worldwide. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation believes that vaccines are the way to a better future for the world. So they have decided to make 'the largest pledge ever made by a charitable foundation to a single cause.' This 10-year, 10 billion dollar project is expected to save 8.7 million lives."
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Gates Foundation Plans To Invest $10B Into Vaccines

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  • Birth Control (Score:5, Insightful)

    by markdavis (642305) on Friday January 29, 2010 @06:11PM (#30955934)

    The "way to a better future for the world" is birth control and education. Don't want to sound cold, but the places with the most human suffering are also the areas with the worst overpopulation vs. the least natural resources. I would hope this component would be very high on the list of any type of aid when addressing suffering and helping to stop the perpetuation of suffering.

  • Re:Birth Control (Score:5, Insightful)

    by qbzzt (11136) on Friday January 29, 2010 @06:14PM (#30955984)

    A population of old people supported by a few young workers isn't going to be particularly viable either. It's a balancing act.

  • Great news (Score:4, Insightful)

    by santax (1541065) on Friday January 29, 2010 @06:20PM (#30956070)
    I find it hard to believe that people criticize this. What have you done for those people there is what I would like to know? As 'the' human race we should be ashamed that people still die of malaria. If Gates can fix that then Gates is a hero in my book. I don't like his software company and I might not even like the person Gates, but come on people... this is just awesome.
  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Friday January 29, 2010 @06:20PM (#30956076) Journal
    Once you can shoot down mosquitos with lasers [wsj.com] you might not need a vaccine for malaria. Like this we should find technological solutions that make vaccines unnecessary. I am wondering why Bill Gates is funding both initiatives.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 29, 2010 @06:23PM (#30956114)

    I think $1149 worth of primary care medicine or even plain old sanitation in underdeveloped places could save a hell of a lot more lives than that.

  • Re:Blood Money? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by not already in use (972294) on Friday January 29, 2010 @06:24PM (#30956138)
    Totally. You should go tell all the children that would benefit from these vaccinations that you don't support this cause because Microsoft was totally lame for requiring Internet Explorer be installed to properly run Windows.

    Fucking OSS people. Seriously, go choke on your beard.
  • Re:Birth Control (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Rene S. Hollan (1943) on Friday January 29, 2010 @06:24PM (#30956146)

    The idea is not to stop producing young workers. The idea is to limit how many you produce so they can be productive young workers. If you currently face a resource shortage, you need to either find a way to increase resources, or reduce the population, or a combination of both.

    Active population reduction is generally politically unacceptable, and rationing the mechanism of saving lives to those who are most productive (for some definition of "productive" -- the old may not contribute labor, but they might contribute knowledge and wisdom), only a bit less so.

    Still, providing the tools so that such a population can have more options in combating their misery is a good idea.
    P
    Nevertheless, it is not clear that providing tools that can exacerbate one aspect of their misery (keeping people alive so they can breed more), without also providing tools to counter this problem (abstinence education (like that ever worked), and contraceptive technology (which. surprisingly, encounters cultural resistance)), is all that great.

  • by Duradin (1261418) on Friday January 29, 2010 @06:27PM (#30956178)

    Actually more people living longer means more people will need drugs for their longer lifespan.

    If "everyone" keels over during infancy there's not much of a window to sell them drugs. Get families that pop out 10+ kids and get them all living to be geriatric and you've got a pharmaceutical gold mine.

  • Wow. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by CaptainJeff (731782) on Friday January 29, 2010 @06:31PM (#30956234)
    Wow, these comments. suck.

    Bill Gates just gave a HUGE amount of money to tackeling diseases that kill thousands of people per year. Not potential people or some statistics on a population map, but alive, breathing, suffering people. This could potentially save thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, or millions of lives. And he just gave this ridiculous amount of money away to this end. And the people on /. are talking about patents, Microsoft money, etc.

    This is a good, noble, and amazing act. Show some goddamn respect. What have you done that could change the lives of that many people? Acknowledge a noble and selfless act...the world would be a much better place if more people not only committed them, but acknowledged them and derive inspiration from them.
  • by Monkeedude1212 (1560403) on Friday January 29, 2010 @06:33PM (#30956262) Journal

    And are you critisizing them for that? What point are you trying to make? Oh, the under-privileged schools are going to be locked into Microsoft's Business Model? Well if they couldn't afford it before than they won't be able to afford it later - so they're in the same spot as they did when they began. On the other hand - they have free proprietary commonly used software for education for as long as its not obsolete. Considering Microsoft Office is THE office productivity package a majority of the world uses, it makes sense that they would want to educate people in its usage.

    Now, I know you'll say that they are just doing it to keep their products in the marketshare; and thats true. But that is just good business practice, it isn't underhanded or dirty in anyway. If the free alternatives want to make some ground, maybe they should be promoting their packages in under-privileged schools.

    Now, I have been saying for a long time that if Gates just took all his money and spent it wisely he alone could get rid of ONE disease that plagues the Earth, like Malaria. I'm glad to see these initiatives taking place.

  • Re:Birth Control (Score:4, Insightful)

    by markdavis (642305) on Friday January 29, 2010 @06:34PM (#30956266)

    Personally, I disagree. If you artificially increase the life span of the overpopulation, the problem becomes even more critical, and fast. When each person is having 2, 3, or 4 children, that is doubling, tripling, or quadrupling the population with just ONE generation, and it is exponential. If there were no resources for 1 person, no jobs for 1 person, no healthcare for 1 person, not enough food or land for 1 person, there certainly won't be for numerous soon after.

    If you really think someone taking care of a household of polio victims is deprived of opportunity, how much opportunity will they have if that household suddenly became three times as large.

    Of course, education and birth control are synergistic- both are needed (and birth control is partially education already, and partially having access to pills, condoms, etc).

  • Re:Birth Control (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TheRealMindChild (743925) on Friday January 29, 2010 @06:37PM (#30956320) Homepage Journal
    Id like to comment on your bit about abstinence education. I don't think it is totally without merit... it just isn't effective as is. If you could give them the experience of working 50+ hours a week to come home to a screaming brat, and have your money earned already spent before you even get it, just to take care of the child, the population growth would fall real fast.

    Sure, you can't really do this for so many obvious reasons, but it is the way people are being educated, not the education idea itself.
  • by Archangel Michael (180766) on Friday January 29, 2010 @06:39PM (#30956348) Journal

    You forget to add in the R&D used to create said drug, the FDA Fees and costs to get the drug tested and approved. Now add in the Liability costs when shit happens to %.001 of the people taking the drug and are sued into oblivion by the likes of John Edwards and so on.

    The real cost of a vaccine is probably closer to $200 per dose than the actual $1 cost to manufacture it.

    Now, if you're suggesting we stop R&D, FDA approval process and torts against the vaccine manufacturer then we might be closer to getting your fictional $1/dose vaccine.

    It just isn't as simple as you suggest.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 29, 2010 @06:39PM (#30956362)

    Uh who do you think is going to receive this so-called 'charitable donation'? Big Pharma wins either way...

  • Re:Birth Control (Score:5, Insightful)

    by causality (777677) on Friday January 29, 2010 @06:40PM (#30956374)

    The idea is not to stop producing young workers. The idea is to limit how many you produce so they can be productive young workers. If you currently face a resource shortage, you need to either find a way to increase resources, or reduce the population, or a combination of both.

    Active population reduction is generally politically unacceptable, and rationing the mechanism of saving lives to those who are most productive (for some definition of "productive" -- the old may not contribute labor, but they might contribute knowledge and wisdom), only a bit less so.

    Still, providing the tools so that such a population can have more options in combating their misery is a good idea. P Nevertheless, it is not clear that providing tools that can exacerbate one aspect of their misery (keeping people alive so they can breed more), without also providing tools to counter this problem (abstinence education (like that ever worked), and contraceptive technology (which. surprisingly, encounters cultural resistance)), is all that great.

    If overpopulation is an issue and you want to truly, effectively do something about it, that's simple. Come up with a version of "the pill" for men. End of population problem.

    Of course, you will encounter resistance from what may seem like unlikely sources. Namely, an economic system based on debt and fiat currency cannot continue to expand and remain viable unless the population is increasing.

  • Re:Blood Money? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Asclepius99 (1527727) on Friday January 29, 2010 @06:42PM (#30956400)
    Warren Buffett donated $30 billion dollars to the B&M Gates Foundation. So it's entirely possible that none of this money is Bill's.*



    *Okay, not is not. B&M were getting the $30B in 5% annual increments starting in either 2006 or 2007, but can't we pretend for the sake of hundreds of thousands of live?
  • by Waffle Iron (339739) on Friday January 29, 2010 @06:42PM (#30956408)

    why use that 10b to give all Americans health care?

    Because the current US healthcare system is a form of feudalism, where the serfs (workers with at least one family member not in perfect health) find it hard or impossible to leave the protection of their lords (large companies). This lack of mobility and reduced freedom of choice drives down prevailing wages in the job market, and it makes it much harder for potential competitors to start new small companies.

    Few have benefited from this situation more than Mr. Gates, so I doubt that he's going to make any big moves to change the status quo.

  • Re:Great news (Score:4, Insightful)

    by 101010_or_0x2A (1001372) on Friday January 29, 2010 @06:45PM (#30956448)
    You're an idiot, and theres nothing remotely sensible in your arguments.
  • Re:Birth Control (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Lord Ender (156273) on Friday January 29, 2010 @06:49PM (#30956524) Homepage

    Your personal disagreement doesn't count for squat. This foundation is not just shooting the shit on the internet to decide what to do. They have Mr. Gates' and Mr. Buffett's personal fortunes going into analyzing how to do the most good in the world.

    Furthermore, your comprehension of economics seems to be rather inadequate. It's not like there are X jobs in the world, and if you have more than X people the rest are unemployed. It's not like the number of jobs is directly bound by the amount of farmland. In the developed world, an insignificant fraction of the population works in farming these days.

    The European economy did not boom during the plague. It's just daft that you are suggesting as much.

    A healthy population can build an economy and become a wealthy population. A sick population can't. It's that simple.

  • Re:Birth Control (Score:4, Insightful)

    by praksys (246544) on Friday January 29, 2010 @06:53PM (#30956578) Homepage

    It's also a lot easier to sell people on birth control if the long term survival prospects of their children are better.

    Suppose each pair of parents wants at least a 95% chance that one of their children will survive to adulthood. If the mortality rate for children is 5% then many parents will settle for one child. On average there may be as few as 0.95 children surviving to adulthood per family, in which case the total population will decline rapidly. If the mortality rate is 50% then most parents will plan to have around 5 children (the probability of all five dying being 0.5^5 = 3%). On average half of all children will still survive to adulthood, so around 2.5 children will survive for each family and the population will grow steadily.

    Obviously I've simplified a bit, but it is quite clear that the reduction of infant and child mortality rates is crucial to long term population control.

  • Re:Great news (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 29, 2010 @06:56PM (#30956602)
    You're enslaved because you have to pay for an OS on your computer, and you have some choice over the OS, and whether or not you have to pay at all? If I ever meet you I'll demand your wallet, which you'll hand over after shitting yourself out of fear of my rolled up wet newspaper.
  • by bmajik (96670) <matt@mattevans.org> on Friday January 29, 2010 @07:02PM (#30956690) Homepage Journal

    I knew this comment would appear.

    You are disgusting. Does your irrational hate for Microsoft have no boundaries whatsoever?

    If you are like 90% of people, you _would not be using a computer_ were it not for Microsoft.

    But lets set Microsoft and software aside.

    I encourage you to head to some disease infested rathole, pre-vaccination, and when people working with funds and medicine provided by the Gates foundation offer to give you an injection that gives you an order of magnitude improvement in survival over your ancestors and everyone in your peer group... I expect you to show them your printed out slashdot comment, [no doubt printed by a printer that Microsoft had some small role in bringing to market]... ...and I expect you to refuse the vaccine because you have principles that are beyond reproach.

    I expect you to provide an eloquent lecture to the doctors [who will haved moved on to treating other people -- ones worth saving], extolling the evil of the foundation that makes it financially possible for them to help poverty stricken people without worrying about how _they_ are going to eat.

    Before heading over, why don't you post it here? Why don't you explain for all of our benefit how Bill Gates created the patent system, and without it, free medicine would have invented itself, and subsequently sprouted wings and flown across the ocean to where it is needed; where doctors would materialize out of nothing riding in on glorious unicorns with silver manes, and then be well fed enough on all of the abundant free food in africa to gleefully risk their own lives to administer said drugs to the people that without such treatment would continue dying in mountainous heaps of human suffering.

    I'm all ears, hot shot.

  • Re:Great news (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 29, 2010 @07:07PM (#30956758)

    If you forgive me for not mincing words, Bill Gates is still a slimy little douche, no matter how much money he's spending, and here's why.

    The gist of it is that the money he's spending is stolen, basically. He made it through illegal means, took it from people like you and me, and I don't give a fuck how much of it he's gonna spend on charity now: it's still stolen.

    I mean, if somebody literally broke into your house, stole a thousand bucks, and then donated 500 to charity while keeping 500 for himself, would you cheer him on and call him a hero?

    And don't forget that Gates isn't even going to any lengths: he's simply donating money he couldn't possibly spend, anyway. He's got everything he could ever want to buy, and he'll continue to be able to get everything he could ever want to buy. At least normal people who donate money will actually feel it, even if it's just a little bit; donating money you can't possibly miss in the first place is easy.

    And let's not forget what he's doing here: he's not interested in charity, he merely figured out that there's something he wants that he can't outright buy, namely popularity. He's already famous, of course, but most people won't think of him as a "hero", so he's trying to change that. And it seems like it worked on you, too. Who says there's things money can't buy?

    Of course, all that said, I won't deny that the money itself isn't bad: pecunia non olet. But make no mistake about Gates himself: he's no hero. He's a high-profile white-collar criminal who's stolen an insane amount of money and who's now using part of it to buy the hearts of the people he stole from, all the while still living a life of incredible luxury. I fail to see what's so heroic about that.

  • Re:Birth Control (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jherico (39763) <bdavis AT saintandreas DOT org> on Friday January 29, 2010 @07:08PM (#30956766) Homepage
    I think you underestimate the compulsion to accept hardship as a consequence of reproduction.
  • by phantomfive (622387) on Friday January 29, 2010 @07:18PM (#30956860) Journal
    "Big Pharma" doesn't exist except in people's imaginations. What exists is a bunch of competing companies, not some uniform group out to screw the rest of us.

    Whatever company comes up with the pill that removes all disease from people will make that company billions of dollars. Every other pharmaceutical company will go out of business? Would you really worry about that if you were going to make billions of dollars?
  • Re:Birth Control (Score:2, Insightful)

    by maxwell demon (590494) on Friday January 29, 2010 @07:19PM (#30956868) Journal

    I think the data speaks for itself. There is a very high correlation between a low birth rate and longevity/low risk of infectious diseases.

    However, the data doesn't tell you the causality. It would be an equally reasonable theory that in countries where illnesses are common, people get more children because many children die early. Also note that nothing decreases the life expectancy more than high infant mortality.
    A more informative statistics would look at the life expectancy of those who already reached a certain age, say 18, and correlate it with the number of children per woman reaching that age.

  • by KiloByte (825081) on Friday January 29, 2010 @07:19PM (#30956874)

    Did I say a word about stopping R&D? Hell no.
    I said that bulk of the money goes to marketing instead of R&D. That, and in the case of US, rampant legal costs.

  • Re:Birth Control (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 29, 2010 @07:25PM (#30956924)
    Except you can easily stop taking the pill and become fertile again.
  • Re:Great news (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 29, 2010 @07:27PM (#30956954)

    The mafia: kills, steals taxpayer money, bribes elected officials, subverts labor unions, etc.
    Bill Gates: used to run a company that makes a mediocre Operating System and sometimes abused their near-monopoly to sell more copies of said OS.

    Yeah, those two are totally comparable. Idiot.

  • Another factor (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Friday January 29, 2010 @07:33PM (#30957014)

    It seems, contrary to what many thought, that as people get better off they have less kids. For a long time population catastrophe was predicted to happen worst and first in industrial nations. They more or less extrapolated from bacteria saying "The better the conditions for the individual, the more they reproduce, and thus the faster you use up resources and hit a wall."

    Well turns out humans are more complex. The birth rate in wealthy nations gets very low, sometimes negative. Seems the more healthy and well off we are, the less kids we have. There are all kinds of reasons as to why that might be the case, doesn't really matter. What matters is that it is the case.

    So, that means that part of solving over population is working to improve quality of life. Being disease free sure as hell goes a long way in that.

  • by vivaelamor (1418031) on Friday January 29, 2010 @07:39PM (#30957074)
    So, we have to be rich before we can criticise them? How about no.
  • Re:Birth Control (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 29, 2010 @07:46PM (#30957166)

    You're right, except it does take a generation or two for the population to switch, during which they're still having a lot of kids. It may take longer, or not even happen at all, if there are additional cultural/religious pushes towards having lots of kids.

  • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Friday January 29, 2010 @08:01PM (#30957360) Journal
    Big Pharma will love it. Bill buys $10bn of vaccines from them. They get the money. Then, he gives the vaccines to people in other countries on the condition that their government signs a treaty with the USA to enforce patents, like the ones on the vaccines. When the vaccines run out, the people in these countries start demanding that their government keeps supplying them. Unfortunately, they've just signed a treaty that prevents them from producing them locally, so now they have to go to Big Pharma and buy them. What's not to like?
  • Re:Birth Control (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Nimey (114278) on Friday January 29, 2010 @08:28PM (#30957622) Homepage Journal

    You can expect the Pope to forbid his followers from using any Pill-for-men, too.

    Pity, because the most over-populated 3rd-world countries (outside of China & India) tend to be Catholic.

  • Re:Birth Control (Score:3, Insightful)

    by TheWizardTim (599546) on Friday January 29, 2010 @08:35PM (#30957714) Journal

    Social Security is an insurance program that everyone in the US has to buy in to. This program pays out not only in old age, but in death to the worker's family, disabling injury, and in the case of my 35 year old brother terminal cancer care. This program helps keep you from having to take care of your parents and your kids at the same time. Only the first $90,000 is taxed. If we remove the cap, we will have no issues paying for it. Yes, people making millions of dollars would never get all their money back, but we don't have hundreds of thousands of old people begging for food on the street. We don't have millions of old people burdening their kids for food, shelter etc. We don't just write off the guy who broke his neck and is stuck in a wheel-chair the rest of his life. We don't let a mother and her kids live on the street when her husband is killed in an accident.

    Social Security is an insurance program.

  • Re:Birth Control (Score:3, Insightful)

    by couchslug (175151) on Friday January 29, 2010 @08:48PM (#30957842)

    "I think you underestimate the compulsion to accept hardship as a consequence of reproduction."

    Fixed it for you:

    "I think you underestimate the willingness to impose hardship as a consequence of reproduction."

  • Re:Birth Control (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Cassius Corodes (1084513) on Friday January 29, 2010 @09:42PM (#30958278)

    steal, spend and lose money

    Sorta like them banks eh? Lucky those weren't run by the govt!

  • Re:Birth Control (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Cruciform (42896) on Friday January 29, 2010 @10:35PM (#30958632) Homepage

    Id like to comment on your bit about abstinence education. I don't think it is totally without merit... it just isn't effective as is.

    Isn't effective as is? Abstinence education isn't even education. It's indoctrination. The sex drive is one of the strongest biological drives people have.

    You might as well try and teach Breathing Abstinence.

    Before the Slashdot virgin jokes kick in, let's consider how many people here would forego sex if it was offered to them by a person they found attractive.

    And how many will resort to masturbation and porn in the event that a suitable partner isn't available. Factor in those who will resort to masturbation even if they do have a regular sex partner but the sex isn't keeping up to their sex drive.

    Now tell them "It's better to wait. Because Jesus will love you more." Good luck with that. The abstinence movement is just another attempt by religion to dictate your life. And it's laughable.

    Teach people safe sex and birth control methods. Additionally, undo the damage done by adults teaching people that sex is dirty and something that you must feel guilty about and engage in furtively.

    And that's just in the US.

    In the third world countries you also have to deal with the mortality rate in children. People don't just have a lot of kids out of sheer ignorance of how children are made. If you have four kids and three of them die before they are five years old because of disease, then it's a matter of having enough children to ensure that some survive to adulthood. This common in species throughout the animal kingdom.

    Make life better for people by educating them and they'll start to have less children on their own.

    But teaching abstinence is about as constructive as bringing 'intelligent design' into the classroom.

  • Re:Birth Control (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Dan541 (1032000) on Friday January 29, 2010 @11:26PM (#30959010) Homepage

    Or we could start another world war.

  • by BitZtream (692029) on Friday January 29, 2010 @11:38PM (#30959092)

    Theres also the fact that while Americans whine and moan and bitch about 'how bad it is', we have no idea what its like to live in truely bad places.

    When you go somewhere and see the population living in lean-to's, drinking water from the same tiny little water hole that the animals (and some people) deficate in, pure black and often foamy because the rare times that water makes it down the river its filled with run off from farms a thousand miles away and all the pesticides and fertilizers that go with that. THEN you see how bad it can be.

    1200 doesn't buy anything useful as far as health care in America because everyone here can get that level of care fairly easy with all the government programs we already have or the fact that regardless of how bad our 'recession' is, we still can find money for this stuff.

    1200 in Ethiopia still may only buy the basics, but going from absolutely 0 health care in a horrible environment to even the most basic level of vaccination its infinitely better than what they have. Its unimaginable the amount of difference that money can make.

    I saw it first hand when I was very young (4 or 5 years old) and while that may have tainted my view of it, even today I think back and its hard to visualize the difference that what is such a small amount of money to us does for someone with nothing to start with.

    And if you want to be selfish about it, think about how much a man or woman with a child about to die of something trivial will do for you after you save their childs life. I can't think of a way to get better allies than to save someones life.

  • by Chris Burke (6130) on Saturday January 30, 2010 @12:19AM (#30959324) Homepage

    If you could give them the experience of working 50+ hours a week to come home to a screaming brat, and have your money earned already spent before you even get it, just to take care of the child, the population growth would fall real fast.

    For the problem of population growth in general, that's obviously nonsense. For the population to grow, people must be having on average more than 2 children, and guess what that means? Barring twins the first time out, they already have a kid and thus know exactly what kind of burden it is! So what exactly are you planning on teaching them?

    For teen pregnancy, which isn't an issue of population growth but still, this is still not going to help. The problem has never been that teens want children, or don't know they don't want children, to any significant extent. The problem is that teens want to fuck. And you can't educate people out of their instinctual, hormonal urges.

    The only thing teaching them about the burden of parenthood can accomplish is to make teenagers more likely to use proper birth control. But that's not "abstinence education" then is it?

  • by ghostunit (868434) on Saturday January 30, 2010 @01:23AM (#30959650)
    I can't help but feel that a lot of the Gates Foundation's efforts are misguided feel good fixes.

    "Save the children" rather than fixing some of the underlying problems. For example, Iodine deficiency is perhaps the most cost effective human capital fix there is. Yet the Gates foundation has only given a few million to that cause as far as I can tell. Vaccines are sexy, saving children is sexy, makes your altruism feel good. Iodine in salt - not so sexy, no discernible results for 20+ years, no great feel good effect.

    Oh awesome - Nikolas Kristof wrote about it : here [away.com]

    Unfortunately, the most cost-effective aid interventions tend to be the kind that are incremental and save only a small proportion of lives—and are thus least satisfying to the giver. For instance, my wife, Sheryl WuDunn, and I have recently published a new book, Half the Sky, arguing that educating and empowering women is the most effective way to fight global poverty and extremism. In the book we call on the U.S. government to adopt a program to help poor countries iodize their salt. Right now, about one-third of families in poor countries don't get enough iodine, and the result is not so much goiters as diminished intellectual capacity. Iodine is essential to brain formation for a fetus in the first trimester, and if a mother lacks iodine her child may end up mentally retarded. More commonly, children in such areas lose 10 to 15 IQ points, with girls particularly affected for reasons that aren't fully understood. This is a lifelong intelligence deficit and a significant burden on poor countries, and it can be resolved very cheaply; iodizing salt costs a couple of pennies per person per year.

    Studies have suggested that iodizing salt brings real economic returns of nine times the cost—and yet we don't do it. The reason is, I think, that the results are statistical, not visible. You can never look at a child afterwards and say, "This girl would have been retarded if it weren't for iodized salt." All you can do is note that retardation rates fall and that, a decade later, school performance improves significantly.

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