David Sengeh has achieved so much and helped Sierra Leone navigate such extraordinary times.
I had an amazing trip to Senegal last month. I always love getting the chance to travel and see the remarkable work the foundation’s partners are doing firsthand. These visits leave me more energized than ever to go to work every day—and my time in Senegal was no exception.
Senegal is a particularly interesting country to visit, because it has made exemplary progress improving the health of its people thanks to a focus on community-led care and many years of smart policymaking. Some of the statistics are mind-blowing: Since 1992, the country has cut its stunting rate in half. Since 2000, the number of Senegalese children who die before their 5th birthday has dropped by 70 percent. And since 2005, the number of women giving birth in health facilities has increased from 62 percent to 80 percent. It’s the perfect place to talk about progress.
One of the highlights of my visit was a trip to the Institut Pasteur de Dakar, or IPD—a research center that has been pushing the frontiers of global health for nearly a century. The facility does it all: IPD plays a key role in monitoring for disease outbreaks in the region; produces millions of diagnostics every year; serves as an educational hub for the next generation of health workers and biomanufacturing workers; and will soon resume manufacturing vaccines.
It was inspiring to meet with brilliant Senegalese scientists who are doing remarkable work to keep their country healthy. Senegal’s health transformation is, in large part, a testament to their dedication and deep understanding of their communities, and I loved talking to them about how they’re constantly evolving to meet the needs of the moment. For example, when COVID hit in 2020, IPD quickly built up a test manufacturing facility. They’re now in the process of expanding that capacity so they can produce other essential tests, like one for measles and rubella.
I was also excited to attend the annual meeting of the Grand Challenges initiative in Dakar last month. The Gates Foundation launched Grand Challenges 20 years ago with a single goal in mind: to identify the biggest problems in health and give grants to the researchers who might solve them. Our hope was to inspire more brilliant scientists to think more ambitiously about transforming health in low-income countries. We hoped to create a scientific community that had support to sustain R&D for the benefit of billions of people whose health needs had been neglected.
In 2003, we put forth 14 Grand Challenges. The initial list included developing a vaccine that didn’t require refrigeration, creating a TB treatment for latent infection, and inventing a needle-free drug delivery system. In the years since, we’ve issued more than 200 challenges—and we even launched our first AI-specific call-to-action earlier this year.
I was lucky to spend a lot of time in Senegal with amazing scientists working on the next big breakthrough. Here are 5 of the coolest innovations I saw:
My time in Senegal reaffirmed my belief in the power of science and innovation. There is no question that our world faces some difficult problems. But when brilliant scientists dedicate their talents to taking on the world’s biggest challenges, progress becomes possible, and we move closer to a future when all people lead healthy lives.