Bill Gates’s latest effort to make people understand global philanthropy, and more eager to participate in it, takes the form of “Mosquito Wars,” a letter with an accompanying one-question quiz for readers to learn more about the great progress and continued challenges in the ongoing battle against malaria, a mosquito-borne disease.
“Malaria has terrorized humankind for thousands of years, but for most of that time, we had no idea what caused it,” Gates writes in his letter. “Today, we know exactly who our enemy is: the mosquito.” Which means that with serious effort, the death toll has dropped roughly 50% since 2000, from 870,000 people annually to about 429,000.
Among the interventions that work well is distributing insecticide-laced bug nets, so those who read the letter and complete the quiz correctly will get the chance to donate a bug net to a family in need.
But even the quiz’s lone question—”How long do today’s upgraded insecticide-treated bed nets protect people from mosquitoes?”—is designed to make you feel pretty good about doing that deed. Its multiple-choice answers are six months, one year, two years, or three years. (Hint: It’s the one that will keep people save the longest, of course.)
Gates’s goal is to get enough players to donate 100,000 bed nets to families in the Inhambane region of Mozambique through partner World Vision. To maintain your interest, the post is spiced up with a VR video halfway through that highlights how researchers in Thailand are making progress against the parasite’s increased drug resistance.
Gates employed the same tactics–with a letter, VR video, and quiz–last year for Coop Dreams, another online initiative that led to his followers donating over 100,000 specially bred birds to families in sub-Saharan Africa through Heifer International. Access to a sturdy egg-laying flock represents a serious source of income, and improved nutrition helps economic advancement for impoverished, often remote communities there.
It all takes money–there’s been a 1,000% increase in malaria-directed spending since 2000, Gates says, although he doesn’t offer a proper total figure–and yet researchers have still fallen short of cooking up a long-term vaccine.
At the same time, the power of insecticide-treated bed nets has improved (they can be washed, reused, and last longer). So have disease-mapping methods, which are helping countries spot their danger zones and deploy nets and other medicines more swiftly. In his letter, Gates calls out several other forward-thinking disease control methods, ranging from poisonous “eave tubes”– mesh-based roof and wall filters–which can be mounted in areas where breeze and bugs tends to enter houses, to early stage gene editing, which seeks to make mosquitoes permanently infertile.
Gates’s entire process of imparting these lessons appears geared toward offering other do-gooders an easy and immediate way to join the fight. As charity evaluators like GiveWell have noted, bed net distribution is one of the soundest and most cost-efficient ways to immediately improve someone’s quality of life and long-term chances of survival.
The tech titan’s gamification strategy extends beyond the quiz: If you sign up to join Gates’s blog, you will also receive the “Gave A Bed Net” award, which resembles a merit badge. Having a profile with rewards is a signal that there will likely be the chance to follow along and earn more collectible awards as he offers them. In the meantime, the little bug net icon comes with a handy link to World Vision, which would probably be happy to also receive direct donations.