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Gates optimistic on future of world's poor

Philanthropist Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft Corp., talks

Philanthropist Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft Corp., talks with former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Bloomberg Television in New York. (Jan. 21, 2014) Credit: Bloomberg

Philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates pitched an optimistic future for the world's poor and sick in their sixth annual letter Tuesday, arguing passionately against three myths they say hurt efforts to bring people out of poverty, save lives and improve living conditions.

In their yearly letter, which in the past has focused exclusively on the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's annual activities, the co-chairmen of the world's largest charitable foundation seek to dispel beliefs that poor countries are doomed to stay poor, that foreign aid is wasteful and that saving lives will cause overpopulation.

"All three reflect a dim view of the future, one that says the world isn't improving but staying poor and sick, and getting overcrowded," Bill Gates writes in the 16-page letter. "We're going to make the opposite case, that the world is getting better, and that in two decades it will be better still."

Bill Gates, the billionaire co-founder of Microsoft, says GDP per capita figures, adjusted for inflation to 2005 dollars, show that many countries such as China, India, Brazil and even Botswana that were once considered poor now have growing economies.

And in Africa, a place he says is all too often dismissed as hopeless, life expectancy has risen since the 1960s despite the HIV epidemic. Also, more children are going to school, and fewer people are hungry.

"I am optimistic enough about this that I am willing to make a prediction," he said. "By 2035, there will be almost no poor countries left in the world."

Gates also argues against claims that foreign aid is wasteful because it is too expensive, it is stolen by corrupt officials receiving it or countries who receive it become dependent on it.

He says that in Norway, the world's most generous donor of foreign aid, the amount of its budget that goes to foreign aid is only 3 percent. In the United States it's less than 1 percent, or about $30 billion per year, of which $11 billion goes to vaccines, bed nets and other health causes.

Measles vaccinations, eradicating smallpox, controlling tuberculosis in China and a plan to eliminate polio in Latin America are all public health efforts achieved with aid funding.

"Health aid is a phenomenal investment," he writes. "When I look at how many fewer children are dying than 30 years ago, and how many people are living longer and healthier lives, I get quite optimistic about the future," Gates writes.

His wife, Melinda, wrote a section of the letter disputing that saving lives worldwide will lead to overpopulation. She points to countries such as Brazil where both child mortality and birthrates have declined. When more children survive, she says, parents have smaller families.

The Seattle, Wash.-based Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is the world's largest charitable foundation and has made $28.3 billion in grant payments since its inception 13 years ago.

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