The billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates said the proposed Trump administration budget could directly lead to millions of preventable deaths around the globe, due to proposed vast cuts to foreign aid and development funds.
“US generosity: if that goes away, even a 10% cut would mean 5 million deaths over the next decade,” Gates said at an event to launch the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s annual letter to the public.
The Trump administration, as it did last year, proposed billions of dollars in cuts to foreign aid, which makes up less than 1% of US spending, in its 2019 budget outline. Last year, lawmakers in Congress from both parties mostly ignored the request, and Gates said he hoped they would again this year too.
“To have Africa be stable, to have health systems that stop pandemics, and to reduce the chance of our army having to go fight somewhere and lose lives: these investments, even in that sort of ‘America first’ mindset, are still very, very wise,” said Gates, referencing Donald Trump’s longstanding rhetoric dismissing foreign aid as a wasteful handout to non-Americans.
Melinda Gates added: “If you believe in any form of soft power, if you believe that the world is more peaceful when it is prosperous and low-income nations can build into middle income nations, then you invest in foreign aid. It makes absolutely no sense to us when we see administration budgets come forward and there are huge cuts.”
Melinda Gates also expressed dismay at the administration’s budget “zeroing out” funds for women’s healthcare as it relates to contraception. “You’re leaving women in destitute poverty if you don’t fund contraceptives,” she said. The budget move by the administration follows Trump’s executive order instituting a “gag rule” on US-funded international NGOs providing abortion services.
The Gates foundation is the largest philanthropic organization in the world, with an endowment of more than $40bn. It tackles issues related to infectious disease, education, family planning, and women’s rights. For the past 10 years, ever since Bill Gates’ fellow billionaire Warren Buffett padded the endowment with $30bn, expanding the organization into its current size and scale, Melinda and Bill have released an annual letter outlining the state of their work and focus areas for the following year.
Despite concern about the effects of possible cuts to US aid, the Gateses’ underlying message in the letter and on stage Tuesday was one of optimism. “The world is getting better by almost every objective measure,” Bill Gates said, citing the example of child mortality, the foundation’s top priority in recent years. “When we got going, about 12 million kids were dying a year under the age of five. Now, because of vaccines and things that we’ve done with partners, that number is under 5 million.”
The discussion was wide-ranging, with the couple fielding questions on topics from healthcare and climate change, to neo-colonialism and the rise of artificial intelligence.
Hosted by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the award-winning writer and composer, the conversation only occasionally drifted into national politics – generally comprising the most dour moments.
After describing his exasperation that many US lawmakers still doubted the scientific fact of climate change, for example, Bill Gates bemoaned the current state of US politics, saying: “It’s a tough time in politics where it’s like you’re more for the group that you’re in than you are for the actual factual exploration.”
Miranda replied, deflatedly: “Well, damn.”