Inside Philanthropy: Forgot About Typhoid? Gates Didn’t

Inside Philanthropy highlights the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s work on typhoid, and mentions Sabin’s Gates-funded typhoid work. 

We’re always impressed with how the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation keeps up the battle against diseases that science and society have all but forgotten. For example, the foundation recently made a $6.5 million grant to Tulane to study congenital syphilis (read more about it here), a sexually transmitted disease that hasn’t run rampant in rich countries since the 18th and 19th centuries, but remains in major menace in the developing world.

And here’s another bygone scourge the foundation has long targeted: typhoid fever. Gates recently made a major gift to fight the disease.

The two-year, $4.9 million grant was awarded to SK Chemical and the International Vaccine Institute (IVI), both based in South Korea. SK Chemical and IVI are using the Gates grant to continue their collaborative efforts toward developing a new vaccine targeting typhoid prevention in infants under two years old. A portion of the funds will also be used to begin clinical trials of an already developed typhoid conjugate vaccine.

Like syphilis, you don’t hear a whole lot anything related to typhoid fever—a disease that is blamed for devastating at least one-third of the Athens population around 430 BC. In the U.S., the disease was checked off the list of a major cause of morbidity in morality in the early 1900s after a typhoid vaccine was developed.

The story, as it often is, is much different in developing countries. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), typhoid fever still effects an estimated 21.5 million people every year with children under the age of four being disproportionately affected.

The NGO world has paid little mind to typhoid over the years, but not Gates. The foundation has given big to organizations fighting the disease since 1999, beginning with a nine-year, $37.2 million grant to the IVI. To be fair, that grant also included research into cholera and shigellosis.

Typhoid-related projects do not have to fall squarely into the foundation’s Neglected and Infectious Diseases program to qualify for a grant. A quick primer on other programs from which Gates has awarded typhoid grants, and why:

  • Water and Sanitation. Typhoid often is contracted through contaminated food and water, as well as poor sanitation, which is one reason that Gates is into WASH issues.
  • Enteric and Diarrheal Diseases. Typhoid is both enteric (related to the intestines) and diarrheal.
  • Discovery and Translational Sciences. A version of the vaccine isn’t approved for use in infants ages zero to two. Gates hopes to change that.

Since Gates first began awarding grants to typhoid related projects back in 1999, IVI has by far been the largest recipient, receiving a total of $65.1 million over three grants. The Albert B. Sabin Vaccine Institute has also been a big recipient of related grants, receiving over $7.7 million from the foundation since 2010. Over the past two decades, give or take a few years, Gates has committed over $81.5 million to fight against typhoid fever.