Rethinking Healthcare

Gates says give for health care, invest in energy

Posting in Energy

Energy makes money, health care takes money, but it takes money to make money.

Bill Gates, finishing his first year as an "elder statesman", says we need to give more for health care and invest more in energy.

Gates talked to C|Net, launched a new Web site called Gates Notes, and announced he is putting his own money into a $1 billion energy fund put together by Vinod Khosla, on top of other alternative energy investments.

Gates' big fear is that climate change is taking money from health, but his own actions demonstrate the real dynamic.

Energy makes money, health care takes money, but it takes money to make money.

The concerns about health care were expressed in his annual letter of his Gates Foundation, a philanthropic equivalent to Warren Buffett's annual reports at Berkshire Hathaway. No surprise since Buffett is giving away his own fortune through the Gates Foundation.

Gates is very interested in vaccines, and has put dollars behind his interest, but notes in the letter that even the best vaccines cost money to distribute, and he initially underestimated the difficulties.

Politics also fights against vaccines. "Many countries have not added a new vaccine for over 20 years. Incredibly, some countries don’t even have a process for deciding whether to add a new vaccine."

Gates' Advance Market Commitment is meant to get over this hurdle, with donors putting up the money for distribution before a vaccine goes into the field. But, again, that's money spent, and Gates (believe it or not) needs donors.

Gates is also becoming a big advocate of foreign aid in his "old age" (I put it in quotes because he's five months younger than I am). He offers a chart in his letter showing that the U.S. puts less of its GDP into foreign aid than other countries, insisting that it's an investment that pays. A lot of foreign aid goes into health.

Perhaps his most controversial statement is the one that follows, arguing that international fundraising against climate change must not come at the expense of health care, and making a connection between the two:

I am concerned that some of this money will come from reducing other categories of foreign aid, especially health. If just 1 percent of the $100 billion goal came from vaccine funding, then 700,000 more children could die from preventable diseases. In the long run, not spending on health is a bad deal for the environment because improvements in health, including voluntary family planning, lead people to have smaller families, which in turn reduces the strain on the environment.

On my open source beat, Bill Gates is often seen as a villain, Microsoft an enemy of free software. But it's hard for me to argue with Gates the philanthropist, although after reading the letter in full I suspect others will.

I wonder how he'll react to that?

Share this

Dana Blankenhorn

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Dana Blankenhorn has written for the Chicago Tribune, Advertising Age's "NetMarketing" supplement and founded the Interactive Age Daily for CMP Media. He holds degrees from Rice and Northwestern universities. He is based in Atlanta. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure