NEW YORK, Oct. 6 /PRNewswire/ -- The International Rescue Committee (IRC) today announced a $2 million grant from Bill and Melinda Gates to strengthen and enlarge the agency's health program for refugees around the world. This is the largest institutional award the IRC has ever received for its health programs. "This generous gift from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will save lives," said Reynold Levy, president of the IRC. "Some of the world's most vulnerable people, especially women and young children, will escape harm because of the work the grant will make possible. The grant is already being put to use funding a health assessment of refugees who fled East Timor." "Bill and Melinda are proud to support the IRC in their work to serve the needs of people in crisis around the world," said Bill Gates, Sr., co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. "The health needs of refugees are urgent and organizations such as the IRC are right there on the scene to provide assistance." Besides the health assessment of Timorese refugees, the grant is currently funding similar work among refugees and displaced people in Kosovo and the central African nations of Guinea and Guinea-Bissau. These assessments are critically important, according to Dr. Richard Brennan, director of the IRC's health program. In February, he said, an IRC health assessment in a war-affected eastern province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo led to the unexpected discovery that more than 1,200 young children had died of measles in the preceding six months. As a result, the IRC organized an all-out campaign that vaccinated some 80,000 children against measles and polio. In northern Sudan, the IRC has already used a small portion of the grant to rehabilitate a health clinic damaged by a flash flood in August, Dr. Brennan said. "Thanks to the funds available because of the Gates grant, we were able to get the clinic back in operation in a matter of days rather than weeks or months," he said. "That was important, because the clinic is the only source of health care for the people in that region." Dr. Brennan said that besides strengthening the IRC's field programs and emergency-response capabilities, the Gates Foundation grant will enable the agency to augment its staff training and development, and to provide centralized resources available to medical professionals deployed around the world. "The IRC also plans to work closely with leading colleges of medicine and public health to facilitate research, attract talented practitioners to the field of humanitarian assistance and bring more of the vast resources of the American health system to work on the problems of refugee health," Dr. Brennan said. The IRC will also use a portion of the grant to encourage the development and growth of indigenous nongovernmental organizations that focus on public health programs for refugees and displaced people. The IRC's health program is overseen by an advisory committee of health experts chaired by Dr. Louis Sullivan, president of the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta and former Secretary of Health and Human Services. The program's executive director is Frederick Burkle, M.D. He is also Professor of Pediatrics and Surgery at the John A. Burns School of Medicine at the University of Hawaii and director of the Center of Excellence in Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance in Honolulu. The International Rescue Committee, founded in 1933 at the suggestion of Albert Einstein to assist people fleeing Hitler, is among the largest voluntary nonsectarian agencies serving refugees worldwide. In the United States, the IRC operates a network of resettlement offices in 20 cities. Overseas, IRC relief teams assist refugees and displaced people in 28 countries in Asia, Africa and Europe. Additional information is available on the agency's web site at www.intrescom.org. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation places a major focus on helping to improve people's lives through health and learning. Led by William H. Gates, Sr. and Patty Stonesifer, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is located in Seattle. Significant Foundation projects include: the Bill and Melinda Gates Children's Vaccine Program, a $100 million commitment to speed the delivery of lifesaving vaccines to children in developing countries; the Maternal Mortality Reduction Program, a $50 million commitment to prevent pregnancy- related deaths of women in developing countries; and the Gates Millennium Scholars program, a $50 million annual commitment for 20 years to provide financial assistance to high-achieving minority students who are in severe financial need and would otherwise be excluded from higher education. Additional information is available on the Foundation's Web site at www.gatesfoundation.org. CONTACT: Ed Bligh of the International Rescue Committee, 212-551-3114.
SOURCE International Rescue Committee