Strong out of the Gates

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s pledge to provide vaccines merits praise

These days, Bill Gates is as well known for setting new trends in humanitarianism as he is for advancing technology. On Jan. 29, Gates announced that his charitable foundation would, over the course of the next decade, donate $10 billion to vaccine development, research, and delivery—the largest amount of money ever donated to a single cause. Copious amounts of credit, thanks, and praise should be given to Bill and Melinda Gates for providing funds for a very worthy cause.

The need for vaccines in developing countries is still great, and the amount of lives to be saved with immunizations for epidemics like tuberculosis, malaria, and pneumonia numbers in the millions. While many agencies and international organizations like the World Health Organization are working for similar improvements in this area of global health, the pledge by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will result in vaccinations occurring more quickly, as there will be less bureaucracy to navigate and a very specific directive to follow.

Yet, while the benefits of this announcement are laudable, one part of Gates’s presentation of this effort has stirred some controversy—with good reason. During the initial announcement of this campaign, Gates outlined the risk of governments diverting aid normally marked for health toward climate change, emphasizing that health must still remain a top priority, even with all of the current data on global warming available. He justified a continued prioritization on health by arguing that better health worldwide will lead to reduced birth rates, thereby diminishing mankind’s contribution to climate change.

While it is true that many of the world’s problems are intricately linked, Gates unnecessarily antagonized much of the global community with his statement. His donation speaks to his own priorities, and he did not need to conflate his good deed with a comment on a separate, and contentious, issue. Bill and Melinda Gates’ decision to direct their foundation’s funds toward an initiative they believe to be extremely important will allow vaccinations to reach those who need them, even if countries and international organizations focus their attention elsewhere, Gates should have focused on that fact instead.

Though they may be only one step toward improving lives around the world, vaccinations are of the utmost importance. A simple inoculation can prevent common diseases that would otherwise cause death, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s pledge acknowledges the very real possibility of improving global health via vaccinations. In that sense—and ignoring his unnecessary commentary about global priorities—Gates’s pledge for the coming decade is a wonderful and laudable example of an entrepreneur-turned-philanthropist.