London, July 24 : Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and New York city mayor Michael Bloomberg have pledged half a billion dollars to fight tobacco use in developing countries.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is going to invest 125 million dollars in the course of five years, on the other hand Bloomberg intends to boost his commitment to his Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use from 125 million dollars to 375 million dollars in four years.
Global estimates suggest that the 'tobacco epidemic' kills 5.4 million people a year and that by 2010, smoking will cause about 930,000 adult deaths each year in India.
Though a large number of developed countries are combating this habit, it is believed that by 2030, over 80 percent of the projected 8 million tobacco-related deaths are expected to be in low- and middle-income countries.
"The epidemic will strike hardest in countries whose rapidly growing economies offer their citizens the hope of a better life," Nature quoted Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), as writing in "The WHO Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic, 2008".
In an initiative to fight the spread of tobacco use, the WHO and Bloomberg's Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use have compiled six strategies into a program called MPOWER.
All these policies deal with wide ranging issues that include education, bans on advertising, increased tobacco taxes, and protection for non-smokers. However, developing counties, which needs these policies the most, have been unable or unwilling to commit the resources to back them.
The WHO figures have revealed that 3.9 billion people live in countries that contribute less than 20 million dollars in total per year to tobacco control. Also, these countries earn more than 66 billion dollars a year in tobacco taxes. But this landscape is expected to get changed with the new funding.
However, Kathy Cahill, a deputy director at the Gates Foundation, acknowledges the fact that this total of 500 million dollars is much less as compared to the billions of dollars poured into marketing and lobbying by the tobacco industry. She further said that strategic spending could overcome the difference.
"It's not dollar for dollar as much as it is implementation of key interventions that work," she said.
"This is a small amount compared to what the industry is spending. But appropriately spent, it could make a huge difference," agreed Prabhat Jha, director of the Centre for Global Health Research at the University of Toronto.
"Tobacco-caused diseases have emerged as one of the greatest health challenges facing developing countries. The good news is, we know what it takes to save millions of lives, and where efforts exist, they are working," said Bill Gates in a statement.