NEW YORK - The world's richest man,
Bill Gates' name Bill Gates, believes it is possible to completely wipe out malaria that kills thousands every day but gets comparatively little attention because it mostly affects poor countries.
"The fact that all these kids are dying, over 2,000 a day. That's terrible. If it was happening in rich countries, we'd act," said the software billionaire — who has acted by pledging $258.3 million recently for the development of new drugs, a vaccine and better protection against mosquitos.
"Biology has improved, so the chance of having new medicines and vaccines are stronger today than ever," Gates said in an interview for ABC's "This Week" to be aired Sunday.
"And yet because the people who need these medicines can't afford them, we haven't put the resources of the world behind us," said the top philanthropist who has provided about $6 billion over the last five years for various causes and projects.
The largest chunk, $107.6 million, of the new funds to battle malaria will go to develop an experimental malaria vaccine and will cover the completion of testing in Africa and the licensing process, should the vaccine prove viable. A study in Mozambique has found the vaccine cut the risk of severe malaria among young children by 58 percent.
A group working to accelerate the development of affordable drugs, the Medicines for Malaria Venture, will get $100 million. The rest will go to developing better pesticides and bed nets against the disease-spreading mosquitos.
In the United States, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation focuses on education and scholarships. But globally "We learned about these health issues, we realized that that's where you can make a huge change," he said.
"With our foundation, with others ... we're getting the brightest scientists to come and work on these problems," Gates added.
But can the stubborn, age-old infection be fully eradicated?
"Absolutely. It's not going to happen overnight, and we should take the tools we have today and get those applied, because we can save half the lives just that way," Gates told George Stephanopoulos, a former White House aide and now an ABC anchor.
"With breakthroughs that will come over the next two decades, yes, we can make malaria in the whole world like it is in the United States today, something that we just don't have to worry about," said Gates.
So will he be remembered more for the work on global health than for Microsoft, Stephanopoulos asked?
"I don't care whether I'm remembered ... empowering people with the Internet and PCs is my lifetime's work. That's my job."