The announcement by Mark Zuckerberg and his wife that they are creating a foundation and plan to give up 99 percent of their Facebook shares over to charity amounts to a whopping $45 billion in today's market.
Zuckerberg and Dr. Priscilla Chan pledged to work on a host of causes over their lifetime, including fighting to cure and eradicate deadly diseases. While $45 billion can certainly help push disease research further, it's unlikely the pledge will mean a quick solution to some of the most vexing and difficult medical challenges of our time.
The U.S. National Institute of Health alone spends $30 billion on medical research annually. For cancer, the annual number drops to just over $5 billion in recent years. The agency also spends around $2.9 billion a year on HIV/AIDS research in an effort to help curb a disease that has killed tens of millions in the 30 years since AIDS was first identified.
The money from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative could also be used to help administer already-discovered vaccines or medication for diseases like polio, measles or rubella. If every child were immunized with existing vaccines by 2020, then 25 million lives would be saved, according to UNICEF.
Although many vaccines are cheap by U.S. standards, many children globally remain under-vaccinated.
The price of a measles vaccine was just 24 cents in 2013, according to UNICEF. With just $1 billion, the Zuckerberg Chan Foundation could buy enough measles vaccines to administer 4.1 billion doses.
While the number shows how many vaccines could be bought, there are additional costs for personnel to administer the vaccines and to develop the network where parents will take their children for care. But if all children were vaccinated against the disease, tens of thousands could be saved from a disease that kills 118,000 children annually, according to UNICEF.
Vaccinations for a host of common and potentially fatal diseases, including, meningitis, measles, rotavirus (that can cause severe diarrhea,) Hepatitis B, yellow fever, diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis, cost a combined total of $6.41 for the medication alone in 2013, per UNICEF. If Zuckerberg pulled out all his Facebook shares today to buy these vaccines, he could buy the medication to potentially inoculate over 7 billion people.
While it's unclear whether Zuckerberg's new foundation will prompt any major breakthroughs in the medical community, that amount of money has the potential help many people across the globe.