We Spoke To Bill Gates About Saving 400 Million People From Disease: "All Life Has Equal Value"

Bill Gates, pictured here after his meeting with the French President at the Elysee Presidential Palace back in June 2016. Chesnot/Getty Images

Is there anything that gives Bill Gates – the world’s ultimate optimist – pause, doubt, or cause for pessimism? After a longer pause than usual, perhaps as he considered his choice of words, Gates gave a typically measured response. “Today, you have certain countries thinking about their own problems.”

Speaking of a peculiarly pervasive “paradigm,” one that “suggests we shouldn’t care as much about what’s happening in other places around the world,” he told IFLScience during a phone call earlier this month: “I do see trends along those lines that do concern me because, well, we’re all in this together.”

“All life has equal value, right?”

Five years ago, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) held a gathering in London to talk about the fight against disease. Unlike malaria or cancer, they spoke of illnesses that you’ve probably never heard of, because you’re lucky to live in countries healthy and wealthy enough to not be ravaged by them.

You’re almost certainly never going to suffer through an excruciating removal of a parasitic Guinea worm, or have your skin warped by lymphatic filariasis (LF), more commonly known as elephantiasis. These so-called “neglected tropical diseases”, however, affect the lives of 2 billion people around the world in low-income countries across Africa, Asia, and South America.

Leading a landmark initiative – alongside the World Health Organization (WHO), several governments, the world’s most powerful pharmaceutical companies, charities like The END Fund, and the World Bank – the BMGF aimed to eliminate in some form or another 10 of these neglected tropical diseases, or NTDs, by 2020.

Bill Gates talks about some of the NTDs targeted for eradication. thegatesnotes via YouTube

“At the London Declaration five years ago, we had an idea,” Julie Jacobson, the senior program officer for Infectious Diseases in The BMGF’s Global Health Program, told IFLScience on a separate call. “We knew that none of us could make amazing things happen for billions of people by ourselves, but that together, we could do something remarkable – even if we weren’t exactly sure what it would look like.”

The Avengers of the medical world set to work, fueled by a massive $785 million fund, of which the Gates Foundation was the largest donor. Treatments were rolled out across the low-income world, R&D picked up its game, and support networks with local communities began to thrive.

Five years on, just this week, they met again in Geneva to see how far they’ve come – and boy, how things have changed.

Bill and Melinda Gates' favorite number. BMGF

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