Gates, Soros team up on access to medical technology

 

Elika Roohi

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Despite sharp differences in their approach to global health, Bill Gates and George Soros’s respective foundations have teamed up to support medical technology through an initiative by the Soros Economic Development Fund and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to acquire diagnostic technology group Mologic.

Mologic Ltd is a world-leading innovator in the development of lateral flow and rapid diagnostic technologies, including tests that can help combat tropical diseases such as dengue, bilharzia, and river blindness – as well as Covid-19.

The £30 million acquisition was announced in summer 2021 and is being made through the Global Access Health (GAH), a social enterprise. GAH will seek to expand access to affordable state-of-the-art medical technology through decentralized research, development, and manufacturing in and for the Global South. The Soros Economic Development Fund launched the GAH in July with support from several philanthropic funds and investors including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

‘The Covid-19 pandemic has painfully demonstrated the fundamental inequities in global public health, and in particular the crucial importance of access in low- and middle-income countries to low-price, high-quality life-saving diagnostic tools,’ said Sean Hinton, SEDF’s Chief Executive Officer. ‘In this unique transaction, philanthropic funds and investors are working together with a skilled and visionary management team in a truly innovative way to address at least one part of that failure by enabling a cutting-edge commercial business to focus all its resources on solving one of the world’s most pressing public health issues.’

A difference in approaching public health

Support from the Gates Foundation for an OSF-led project comes amid a history of disagreement on how to fund global health. Writing in Alliance magazine’s December 2020 issue on global health philanthropy, senior figures in OSF’s public health programme Julia Greenberg and Aggrey Aluso were critical of the Gates Foundation’s for partnerships with pharmaceutical companies who dictate terms of access for lower-income countries.

‘Not only are these arrangements typically made without public oversight, but they do not change the intellectual property rules, and monopoly pricing, which prevent more systemic change over the longer term’, wrote Greenberg and Aluso.

Impact investing in the health space

Mologic was established in 2003. Its work to develop affordable testing for neglected tropical diseases has been supported by grant funding over the years from a range of donors, including the Gates Foundation.

As part of the transaction to acquire Mologic, GAH will integrate it with a sister non-profit entity, Global Access Diagnostics that focuses on low-cost manufacturing of diagnostic tests.

SEDF is the impact investment arm of OSF, and its investments in GAH are part of a portfolio of recent investments made to serve the Foundations’ commitment to expanding global access to affordable, quality public health products and technologies.

Elika Roohi is Digital Editor at Alliance.


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