Private philanthropic foundations have long played a role in financing global health initiatives, especially disease eradication programs, and their role is growing. As legal entities set up by individuals or institutions for the purpose of distributing funds over a period of time, foundations usually focus on specific funding priorities that remain fairly consistent to achieve measurable results. Because they have complete discretion over which projects or programs they support, at times soliciting grant proposals and at times selecting programs directly, and because they can move swiftly when the need arises, they can sometimes make a crucial difference.
Some are also able to bring very substantial resources to bear. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is a funder of the Rx for Survival project), for example, has channeled about $800 million a year to global health programs, nearly the same amount as the World Health Organization's annual budget. The Gates Foundation is a partner in both the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization.
Other major U.S.-based foundations that support global health initiatives in various ways include the Ford Foundation, the Kaiser Family Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the MacArthur Foundation. A few exist outside of the United States, such as the UK's Wellcome Trust. Added to these are pharmaceutical company foundations that donate drugs or funds for specific purposes. The Merck Company Foundation (The Merck Company Foundation is a funder of the Rx for Survival project), for example, has been donating drugs for the prevention and treatment of river blindness, a debilitating and parasite-borne disease, since 2000. Similarly, the Pfizer Foundation supports efforts related to HIV/AIDS, such as the construction of medical training facilities, the implementation of prevention programs, and the provision of treatment drugs.