Massive Gifts to Global Health from the Gates Family

  • Overseas
  • 1994

Bill Gates often explains in interviews how he decided to become a philanthropist: He was “exclusively focused” on Microsoft in the mid-1990s when his attention was captured by an article about how rotavirus kills half a million children per year by severe diarrhea. That mostly unreported misery seemed cruel and unnecessary, and inspired him to form his foundation in 1994 with an initial stock gift of $94 million. From the beginning his efforts were particularly devoted to improving health in poor countries overseas, because “every life has equal value.”

In 2008, Gates left Microsoft and became a full-time philanthropist. From its inception through 2014, his foundation gave away $34 billion, most of it for health-related work. Just in 2014, the $3.9 billion distributed by the Gates Foundation in direct grants included the following major health investments:

  • Eradicating polio, $442 million
  • Agricultural development, $442 million
  • Vaccinating people in poor countries, $327 million
  • Battling HIV/AIDS, $223 million
  • Battling malaria, $201 million
  • Battling tuberculosis, $145 million
  • Improving maternal and child health, $135 million
  • Battling enteric and diarrheal diseases, $100 million
  • Battling pneumonia, $100 million
  • Battling neglected diseases, $100 million
  • Improving sanitation and water hygiene, $96 million

    In a typical year, the Gates Foundation spends about as much as the World Health Organization on global health. It has been estimated that Gates directly saved 8 million lives in its first two decades, and headed off untold human misery, via its attacks on infectious diseases.