Melinda Gates Says Buffett’s Donation Could Be Used for HIV Vaccine Research, Other Projects
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).
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).
Several newspapers published editorials on Buffett's donation. Some of these are summarized below.
Boston Globe: Even though "not all problems should be solved through personal responsibility and private effort," a risk of Buffett's gift is that it "could feed complacency, the shrug-it-off expectation that the private sector will tackle knotty, expensive problems," a Globe editorial says. The donation "should spur individuals and nations to spend more time asking how great wealth can help make great progress," the editorial concludes (Boston Globe, 6/27).
Los Angeles Times: "Thousands, or maybe millions, of people will soon be saved from needless death" because of Buffett's gift, according to a Times editorial. "Buffett's action is a refreshing move in the world of philanthropy," the editorial says, adding that other wealthy people "should follow his lead in treating overseas poverty as an immediate concern." The editorial concludes, "Nurturing a more peaceful, prosperous and healthy world beats having your name on a building anytime" (Los Angeles Times, 6/27).
New York Times: "[T]he reach of Mr. Gates' and Mr. Buffett's combined philanthropy is truly global," though the importance of Buffett's gift is "not only its staggering amount," a Times editorial says. Rather, the significance also is that Gates and Buffett, "two of capitalism's greatest champions and, arguably, its two biggest beneficiaries, have joined forces to give back," according to the editorial (New York Times, 6/27).
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Buffett's donation "creates a massive engine of social betterment," according to a Democrat and Chronicle editorial. Now, the "chances of saving millions of lives and actually defeating some of the illnesses that devastate the poor seem remarkably bright," the editorial says (Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, 6/27).
- USA Today: Buffett's gift is "notable in several ways," including the "sheer size" of the donation, which definitely will have an impact on the world, a USA Today editorial says. The editorial notes that Gates and Buffett do not "think small," citing a statement Gates made Monday: "There's no reason we can't cure the world's 20 deadliest illnesses" with the donation (USA Today, 6/27).
Related Opinion Pieces
The Boston Globe and Washington Post published opinion pieces on Buffett's donation. The pieces are summarized below.
- Scot Lehigh, Boston Globe: Buffett and Gates' renewed focus on "making the planet a better place" could "redefine the obligations of wealth," columnist Lehigh writes in a Globe opinion piece. Their commitment should "set an important example in the world of giving" and send the message that "[i]t's important to do something worthwhile with your wealth -- and to do it while you're still alive," Lehigh writes (Lehigh, Boston Globe, 6/27).
- Eugene Robinson, Washington Post: With the Buffett donation, the Gates Foundation must spend an extra $1.5 billion a year, which means they have to find "productive ways to disburse an extra $4 million a day, including Saturdays and Sundays," Post columnist Robinson writes in an opinion piece. "The real question" regarding Buffett's donation "is whether any one organization, even one with essentially unlimited resources and world-conquering managers at the helm," such as the Gates Foundation, can effectively manage such a large donation, Robinson says. He writes that Buffett has a "pretty good track record" of assessing an organization, adding, "I hope he's right this time" (Robinson, Washington Post, 6/27).
Several broadcast programs reported on Buffett's announcement and the implications for charitable giving to global health issues:
- ABCNews' "World News Tonight": The segment includes comments from Eric Pooley, managing editor of Fortune magazine (Harris, "World News Tonight," ABCNews, 6/26). Video of the segment is available online.
- APM's "Marketplace": The segment includes comments from Paul Light, professor of not-for-profit management at New York University (Vigeland, "Marketplace," APM, 6/26). The complete transcript and audio of the segment in RealPlayer are available online.
- CBS' "Evening News": The segment includes comments from Buffett, Gates and Stacy Palmer, editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy (Mason, "Evening News," CBS, 6/26). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.
- NBC's "Nightly News": Daniel Borochoff, founder of the American Institute of Philanthropy; Buffett; the Gateses; and Pooley (Fratangelo, "Nightly News," NBC, 6/26). The complete segment is available online in Windows Media.
- NPR's "All Things Considered": The segment includes comments from Tom Paulson, global health reporter for the Seattle Post Intelligencer (Norris, "All Things Considered," NPR, 6/26). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.
- NPR's "Morning Edition": The segment includes comments from Buffett; Helene Gayle, president and CEO of CARE USA; Palmer; Paul Schervish, director of Boston College's Center on Wealth and Philanthropy; and former Gates Foundation staff members (Kaufman, "Morning Edition," NPR, 6/27). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.
- NPR's "Talk of the Nation": The segment includes comments from Dwight Burlingame, professor of philanthropic studies at Indiana University; Pablo Eisenberg, senior fellow at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute; and Jill Manny, executive director of the National Center on Philanthropy (Conan, "Talk of the Nation," NPR, 6/26). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.
- PBS' "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer": The segment includes comments from Buffett; the Gateses; Carol Loomis, editor at large for Fortune magazine; and Eugene Tempel, executive director of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University (Holman/Warner, "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer," PBS, 6/26). The complete transcript is available online. The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.
- PBS' "Nightly Business Report": The segment includes comments from Phil Buchanan, executive director of the Center for Effective Philanthropy; Buffett; Gates; and Melanie Schnoll Begun, managing director of Citigroup Philanthropic Services (Gharib/Pratt, "Nightly Business Report," PBS, 6/26). The complete transcript is available online.