Introduction: Medicine & Health

Medical philanthropy has a long history in the United States—from the founding of our first charity hospital in 1735 (by a common businessman acting in a remote frontier town that had only been in existence for 18 years) to the development of therapies that have saved hundreds of millions of lives. Charitable giving has been crucial in catalyzing many of the most far-reaching advances in medicine, such as penicillin, insulin, hookworm control, the polio vaccine, kidney transplants and dialysis, and much of today’s success against cancer. Philanthropists established most of America’s best medical schools and research institutes. They have endowed professorships, created labs, and built clinics. Philanthropy has been vital in carrying improved health measures out into communities—from the Rockefeller Foundation’s heroic campaign against yellow fever right up to today’s Gates Foundation battles against malaria, leprosy, polio, and other neglected diseases. With the last generation’s explosion of private-industry research and government spending on health care, private philanthropy now comprises only a small portion of funding for medical research and public health, yet because it tends to be flexible, risk-tolerant, fast-moving, and offered without the onerous red tape of government grants, philanthropic funding is especially prized by medical researchers today and continues to have a powerful impact on the field, as you will learn in the pages following. 

— Section research provided by Karl Zinsmeister, Cindy Tan, and Thomas Meyer