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Thursday, 3 December, 1998, 16:53 GMT
Gates gift for child vaccines
Billl and Melinda Gates
Bill and Melinda Gates: Say they want to give back to society
The world's wealthiest man, Microsoft computer software boss Bill Gates, is giving $100m for child vaccination programmes in developing countries.

Mr Gates, who is worth an estimated $60bn, said the gift would fund research as well as existing immunisation projects.

The United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) estimates 12 million children die each year from preventable diseases.

"The only thing standing in the way of saving millions of additional lives in developing countries is ensuring an adequate supply of new vaccines," Mr Gates said.

"Our program has a simple goal to make vaccines you and I take for granted available to children regardless of where they live.''

'Major challenge'

Mr Gates, who is donating the money with his wife Melinda, said many of the latest American vaccines were not reaching those who needed them because of the expense involved.

"The major challenge of the 21st Century will be to spread the benefits of the new [medical] technology as widely as possible.

"This is the cause that Melinda and I have chosen to focus on in giving back to society.''

Vaccines against tuberculosis, polio, diphtheria, tetanus and measles are already widely available.

Other immunisation programmes that stand to gain include hepatitis B, which causes liver disease; homophilus influenza B, a cause of meningitis; streptococcus pneumonia, which causes ear infections and deadly respiratory illness, and rotavirus, which causes life-threatening diarrhoea.

Mr Gates said he and his wife decided to put their money into vaccines after seeing the need at first hand during their recent travels.

'No link to trial'

The gift comes as Microsoft is embroiled in a complex court case over its alleged attempts to monopolise parts of the software industry.

But Mr Gates said there was no link between the legal proceedings and the timing of his donation.

"If there are any two things that are more unrelated, I'd say this has got to be it," he said.

"Although Microsoft has provided the wealth to do this, I don't see this as being related in any way."

The initiative will be administered by the Seattle based Programme for Appropriate Technology in Health, in conjunction with the World Health Organisation (WHO), Unicef, the World Bank and the pharmaceutical industry.

'Extraordinary gift'

The WHO says it is the largest single gift ever made to promote children's vaccinations.

Carol Bellamy of Unicef said the problem with many of the new vaccines is that there has not been the means to get them to the developing countries where they are most needed.

"Gates' money is a way of opening the door," she said.

"It will not solve all the problems, but it will challenge others."

She added that it would push the immunisation programme along "not just by an inch, but by a foot.

"It really is an extraordinary gift."

One of the richest men in the world, Mr Gates's wealth would cover the whole of Manhattan if laid out in $500 bills, according to one estimate.

But he is not the only high profile US entrepreneur to give in recent times.

Last year, CNN founder and media magnate Ted Turner pledged $1bn to the UN.

In a television interview at the time, he said many highly wealthy individuals in America "won't loosen up their wads" because they are obsessed with ranking high on the Forbes magazine list of the 400 richest Americans.

He said: "I was appalled how little some of them were giving away.

"And you're not happy if you're a Scrooge."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Audio
Bill Gates tells the BBC about his $100m gift and the Microsoft court case
Video
The BBC's John McIntyre: "The Gates join the ranks of big time philanthropists"
Audio
Bill Gates: "Philanthropy is a very personal thing"
See also:

28 Oct 98 | Microsoft
23 Nov 98 | Microsoft
28 Oct 98 | Microsoft
03 Dec 98 | International
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