Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

Gates Foundation deputy director emphasizes importance of vaccination to global health

Walter Orenstein, deputy director of vaccine-preventable diseases at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, spoke about the importance of collaborative vaccination efforts during an early morning program at DU’s SIÉ CHÉOU-KANG Center on Oct. 22.

Orenstein cited the belief that all human lives have equal value as the core motivating principle behind the Gates Foundation’s commitment to fighting vaccine-preventable diseases.

“If you don’t stop [disease] globally, it will spread to us,” Orenstein said.

These concerns prompted the Gates Foundation in January 2009 to pledge more than $355 million to Rotary International to help the group eradicate polio with the provision that the organization raise $200 million by 2013.

In 1985, Rotary International initiated their PolioPlus program to fight the disease and have since dedicated more than $800 million to the cause. Their efforts have yielded substantial results with the number of polio infections dropping from more than 350,000 in 1988 to less than 2,000 in 2008.

Nevertheless, “when it comes to eradication, one case is one case too many,” Orenstein said. Even as the cost of eradicating polio rises well into the trillions, Rotary International and the Gates Foundation remain steadfast in their conviction, Orenstein said.

Orenstein visited Denver as part of Rotary International’s “State of the State” luncheon, and to recognize the club’s fundraising efforts. Organizers billed his appearance at the morning program as an opportunity for University, Rotary International and Gates Foundation representatives to discuss their approaches to some of the world’s significant health issues.

Randall Kuhn, director of the Josef Korbel School of International Studies Global Health Program at DU, also highlighted the need for diplomacy in the execution of global health initiatives. Peter Van Arsdale, a senior lecturer in Korbel, briefed the assembly on the Kibera Project, which sends graduate students to work on health initiatives in the Kibera slum outside Nairobi, Kenya.

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