Bill and Melinda Gates: Trump budget could lead to millions of global deaths

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Bill and Melinda Gates: Trump budget could lead to millions of global deaths

In Gates foundation letter, philanthropists argue for importance of foreign aid ‘even in an “America first” mindset’

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Bill and Melinda Gates discussed the importance of foreign aid and the state of US politics.
Photograph: Lou Rocco/Getty Images

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.


The Gates Foundation letter

The Gates Foundation letter began as an open letter from Bill and Melinda Gates to their largest benefactor, the investment guru Warren Buffett, whose 2006 gift of $30bn allowed the organization to expand to its current size. Since then, the letter has become more of an informal annual report outlining recent research findings in relation to world development and future priorities. The Gateses’ liberal outlook is generally focused on the global alleviation of poverty and disease.

Previous letters have zeroed in on specific interventions, usually the result of scientific or technological breakthroughs, and how they can be used to assuage various entrenched societal problems. In 2015, for example, the letter looked at how mobile banking could change money management in the developing world, and how agricultural innovations could increase crop yield in poor countries forced to spend billions on importing food. 

For the 2018 missive, the couple decided to use a question and answer format, addressing what they say are some of the most common queries people have about the foundation – which is the world’s largest and is regarded as influential internationally. Melinda Gates called them “10 tough questions” and welcomed those questioning the foundation’s activities. Jamiles Lartey

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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.”

The Guardian’s global development content is supported by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

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