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Melinda Gates Says Buffett's Donation Could Be Used for HIV Vaccine Research, Other Projects

June 27, 2006

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation aims to use a portion of the donations totaling more than $30 billion from Berkshire Hathaway Chair Warren Buffett to fund HIV vaccine research and microbicides, Melinda Gates suggested on Tuesday during a news conference in New York City with Buffett and Bill Gates, the New York Times reports (McNeil/Lyman, New York Times, 6/27). Buffett on Sunday in a letter said he will annually donate to the Seattle-based Gates Foundation 5% of stock holdings currently valued at $30.7 billion. The initial donation, to be made in July, will total an estimated $1.54 billion. The conditions of the donation require that Bill or Melinda Gates continue active participation in their foundation. Buffett also will become a trustee of the Gates Foundation. The foundation has an endowment of $29 billion and to date has spent more than $10 billion, much of it on programs to fight HIV/AIDS and other global health concerns (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 6/26).

Gates' Comments
Melinda Gates on Tuesday said her "fondest dream" is an HIV/AIDS vaccine but added that it could take 20 years of research and development to attain. She added that microbicides have the potential to aid in a temporary solution to HIV prevention until a vaccine is developed (New York Times, 6/27). Microbicides include a range of products -- such as gels, films and sponges -- that could help prevent the sexual transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 4/27). Bill Gates at the news conference said, "There is no reason we can't cure the top 20 diseases" (Milton, AP/Boston Globe, 6/26). He asked, "Can that happen in our lifetime?" adding, "I'll be optimistic and say absolutely" (New York Times, 4/27). Bill Gates also said the Gates Foundation recently has become interested in the practice of microcredit, which aims to help women and families start businesses and save money. In addition, the foundation has become interested in agricultural biotechnology to help secure food sources, the Wall Street Journal reports. Melinda Gates explained that while touring in Africa the couple saw many people who were receiving medications for HIV/AIDS or tuberculosis but did not receive the full benefits of the drugs because of a lack of food and water (Beatty/Chase, Wall Street Journal, 6/27). "It's hard to take (medication) if you don't have food -- they can hardly swallow their medication," she said, adding, "They need to have some way of supporting themselves if they are going to stay healthy over time" (Masters/Noguchi, Washington Post, 6/27).

Gates Foundation's Effect on Government Health Programs, Spending
Some experts said governments should not use Buffett's donation as an "excuse to pull back from their responsibilities," the Los Angeles Times reports. Susan Aaronson, director of globalization studies for the Chapel Hill, N.C.-based Frank Hawkins Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise, said there is a chance that governments using private funding could abandon responsibility for providing services such as basic health care to their citizens. Other experts added that the growing influence of philanthropists could channel attention to their "pet projects," while other needs are ignored, according to the Times. "You can't have the whole world's health agenda based in Seattle," Samantha Bolton, an adviser to the group Drugs for Neglected Disease Initiative, said, adding, "Gates stresses this himself. The priorities and policies have to come from the governments. They have to remain involved. If you want to have an impact, you need public money" (Iritani, Los Angles Times, 6/27). According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, governments in 2005 provided more than $100 billion in development assistance, one quarter of which came from the U.S. (Collinson, AFP/Yahoo! News, 6/27). Richard Klausner, former director of the National Cancer Institute and former head of global health for the Gates Foundation, said that if governments neglect public health programs, "it's because they were looking for an excuse, not because there's no need" (New York Times, 4/27).

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