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Bill Gates: What I Learned in the Fight Against Polio (wsj.com)
160 points by denzil_correa on Nov 10, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 65 comments

There are many reasons why one would remember William Henry Gates - Microsoft, technology et al. But, I would remember Bill for his life after Microsoft via his philanthropy. He's having an unprecedented impact on global society in energy, health care, education and many more areas which are too many to list. Even his worst of technology critics (like me) can't hide away from the fact of his impact on modern society.

I was reading the 2013 Annual letter from Bill Gates as part of Gates Foundation [0]. Each word in the report is magnificently detailed and precise. Gates foundation has helped "almost" completely eradicate polio with lesser than 1000 reported cases in the world. This is pretty amazing! If and when polio would be completely wiped out of the face of this earth, it would just be the second disease to be wiped out. Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan are the only countries with children affected by polio. I also see a sharp decline in child-birth cases. This report is a MUST read and if possible do your bit to support the Gates foundation.

Even if he doesn't do a single thing from now on - Bill Gates has earned his RESPECT with not only his impact in technology but life outside technology. Personally, I would always remember Bill as the philanthropist rather than the tech-wizard.

[0] http://annualletter.gatesfoundation.org/pdf/2013_AL_English....

It takes time to get used to see Bill Gates as the Gates Foundation man. I saw the TED talks both by him and his wife, and his contributions to different causes reported in different independant venues. But what's making it uncomfortable is the basic dishonesty his previous company was tainted with. Microsoft had a very noble stated mission and had a pretty good image in my teenager memories, Bill Gates inspired a generation of programmers and entrepreneurs...until it was very clear that they had profoundly damaging business practices for the ecosystem and very low company ethics.

Now we are talking about all of Bill Gates' energy and dedication to make the world better, but I'd think that his ethics may not have changed so much, nor his his way of thinking.

But he's doing good things, right ? Or do we really have a complete view on his activities ? Microsoft brought computing to the masses, the Gates Foundation is bringing vaccines to people in need. Will there be a day when we won't be so fond of the actions of the Gates Foundation ? Are there side effects to what is going on that Bill Gates is aware of, but won't be widly known until years from now ? For all the good we see now, will there be dirt coming out slowly that we won't be so OK with ?

I hope there is none of that, really. I just find the narrative of 'he did questionnable things in the past, but now that he's leading a charitable entity it can't be bad. Grow up and praise the man' a bit naive. Fighting polio is good, and the Gates Foundation seems to be doing seriously amazing things. Now I'd still keep a healthy distance, and I'll prefer pushing other entities that I could trust more easily.

For heavens sake, it's not like Microsoft was exploiting little children in Africa or producing gas chambers. They were just running business, being quite rough, but doing nothing exceptionally evil to the world. I mean, I didn't like some of their products, but I am far from judging the people involved there negatively as human beings, I don't see any reason for that. Have a look here for comparison:


it's not like Microsoft was exploiting little children in Africa

That is actually one of the major criticisms of the Gates Foundation rather than MS. The foundation has been vociferous in its support of intellectual property laws. Strongly lobbying for patent protections of medicine in developing countries. My understanding is that the foundation will not fund any programs that purchase drugs from unlicensed local manufacturers, even when local laws do not require licensing.

Here is a recent article on the topic, but the criticism regarding the foundation's support for maximalist intellectual property laws is nothing new:


I am not remotely interested or educated in the topic of charity in the third world, I just don't see the connection between Microsoft's history and the assessment of the foundation, but this article is clearly written with a certain agenda in mind and by the end becomes plainly ridiculous:

He and Gates are products of an economic system that has produced monopolies and redistributed wealth upwards for 30 years. Parallels may be drawn between the inequalities of today and the Victorian era, when health provision for the poor depended on the largesse of the rich.

There sure is plenty of inequality in the world, but the conditions in Africa are as they are primarily because the geographical conditions are one of the harshest on earth and because the huge amount of people that now has to try to survive in those conditions. In many places the West can not exploit anything because there is nothing to exploit, the natural resources are very scarce, the people have literally nothing and in best case have barely enough energy to survive. I doubt the authors know much about what they are writing about.

One needs to consider, that willing to do something in the real world, you can often either compromise or do nothing or do much less. From what I understand the Gates Foundation does this to engage American pharmaceutical companies in the whole project, without which they could do little.

The thing to note is that even if Microsoft has damaged the ecosystem or having not-so-high company ethics, they didn't do that just for the sake of being evil. They have a goal (and I don't mean the publicly stated mission) and they just did whatever they need to achieve that.

Now, if the goal of Bill Gates is to make the world a better place to live, and he's doing whatever needed be done to achieve that ... Of course things could still not be ideal, but there is actually not that much reason to not trust the foundation. Unless you implies their goals were something else all along :-).

they didn't do that just for the sake of being evil.

No one ever does. Nobody wakes up in the morning and decides, "Today I will strike a blow for evil!"

No, everybody has their own narrative in which they are the hero. Evil is simply the by-product of being so focused on your own narrative that you forget that other people have their own narratives in life.

"Nobody wakes up in the morning and decides, "Today I will strike a blow for evil!"

Hipsters might. Ironically of course. They may even have a twirly villainous mustache to go with it.

if someone makes a habit of deviating from their publicly stated mission, do you trust them? nobody sets out to be evil from their perspective, but living up to your word does impact others' perspective of you

> http://blogs.hbr.org/2013/11/that-guy-with-a-thousand-incons...

I think you may just be the person this article talks about.

Bill Gates is doing good but...

Yes vaccines are great but...

All of Bill Gates energy and dedication to make the world better but....

> Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan are the only countries with children affected by polio.

And now Syria. Worse, sewage monitoring shows that polio is present asymptomatically in the Middle East. It's pure luck that there haven't been active cases.

The Middle East needs to be the next target for a major push, but the war in Syria, problems in Egypt, and Muslim distrust of westerners will make it very hard.

> sewage monitoring shows that polio is present asymptomatically in the Middle East. It's pure luck that there haven't been active cases.

Do you also consider leaf-shaped insects to have gotten that way by "pure luck"?

I don't know what you are talking about.

But polio has no symptoms at all in 90% cases, and only minor symptoms in 99% of cases, so yes, luck. Or divine providence.


The pure luck that their ancestors just happened a tiny bit more like a leaf than their fellows, due to a random mutation or random environmental factor affecting gene expression.

Over time, many tiny bits of pure luck accreted as something that actually looked almost exactly like a leaf.

Natural selection is 100% pure luck. Sexual selection may be as well.

I get my heckles up when I see people praising Bill Gates lavishly for the money he spend for health care, education et cetera. While these causes are undoubtedly worthwhile, it should not be forgotten that the money Bill Gates controls is tainted by ethically dubious practices that he and Microsoft has engaged in, including ruthless monoolistic practices and copycatting. Overall, the world would be better off if Bill Gates and Microsoft did "the right thing" starting in the 80's.

And don't get me started on Paul Allen and the use he made of his Microsoft money... suffice to say he reminds me of the Russian oligarchs.

> Overall, the world would be better off if Bill Gates and Microsoft did "the right thing" starting in the 80's.

Better late than never.

> Even his worst of technology critics (like me) can't hide away from the fact of his impact on modern society.

Actually, there are still some out there who can - they will change the subject, put headphones on, or whatever it takes to avoid the subject. In some ways, many people seem to never get beyond mental adolescence on certain topics.

It is also interesting to see that the Computer Science departments at many of the world's best CS schools are named after Gates [0]. I think generations of computer scientists will be affected by him.

[0] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Gates_Building

I'm writing this from the Gates Dell Complex at UT. Gates contributed $30 million towards the total $120 million cost of the complex.

Link doesn't work.

This seems to be the document he tried to link:


Thanks, I fixed it now.

I'm deeply disappointed that Gates made no mention of a major contributor to his fight against polio, Rotary International. Besides the humongous amount of money they donated, often times it was Rotarians who traveled to these countries to administer the vaccine to children. In addition, they usually traveled on their own dime and, in the case of some countries, at their own risk.

Anyway, I founded a community service organization a few years ago, and through one of our projects we made a very paltry donation to the polio eradication cause. One of the major challenges we ran into while fundraising was getting young people to care. Older folks were very generous, since a lot of them remembered polio from their own childhood, and even had friends overseas who were victims. But people in their 20s and early 30s simply did not know. It was greatly disturbing. As a society we make a great effort to keep reminding people of the horrors of World War II, and yet we are on the verge of largely forgetting about this ancient disease.

Vaccinations are a young enough technology that we may find that we have to go through a few 'cycles' similar to how the atrocities of war seem to get forgotten after a couple of generations. Right now the anti-vaccination crowd has the luxury of living in a world where many of the horrible maladies of yester-year are all but gone due to the herd immunities granted to us via vaccines. When they look at the risks of vaccination, they get to weigh the risk of side effects of the vaccine vs. the risk of getting sick in a world where you get to 'leech' off of everyone else's vaccination-induced immunity.

Polio is rare enough in the first world, that it seems a 'solved problem' much like small pox.

>> "But people in their 20s and early 30s simply did not know. It was greatly disturbing. As a society we make a great effort to keep reminding people of the horrors of World War II, and yet we are on the verge of largely forgetting about this ancient disease."

Is this not a positive thing? I'm in my early 20's and only know one person (they are much older and I don't know them well) with polio. That's great. The fact that we are on the verge of forgetting is because it's largely irrelevant or gone in most countries. Also great.

>> "One of the major challenges we ran into while fundraising was getting young people to care. Older folks were very generous"

Was this because young people were not as aware of polio or is this a more general trend in charity donations (that older people give more)?

> That's great. The fact that we are on the verge of forgetting is because it's largely irrelevant or gone in most countries. Also great.

It's mostly a positive thing. The disadvantages are when people say "measles is a normal disease of childhood, and vaccination against measles weakens the immune system and causes autism". Vaccinations don't cause autism, and measles isn't a trivial disease.

But yes, apart from that it's great.

Are there people alive in the USA who contracted polio in the 1950s? There certainly are in the UK, and post-polio syndrome is hitting them now.

I can understand folks simply not knowing someone who had polio -- it always seems to surprise people when I tell them my dad had it -- but perhaps we could increase awareness of the suffering that's going on years after the initial epidemic.

This page says there are 3/4 of a million of them - http://www.spinalcord.org/reaching-out-to-polio-survivors/

A few people in this thread say they are having a hard time embracing Bill as a good guy because of the monopolistic business practices of Microsoft in the 90s. To be honest, I've never quite understood the reasoning behind the charges made against the company brought by the DOJ or by the company's detractors.

There was a surge of hate for Microsoft back then that was frequently expressed in forums on the fledging web and in the newsgroups. Very often you'd see complaints about Microsoft being a monopoly, followed by (in the same post), a pitch for Linux or Mac or every once in a while some other system. “Linux is better than Windows, and it's free!” This left me scratching my head. So there's a superior, less expensive alternative to Windows—what's your definition of monopoly again? And what of OS/2? Runs Windows apps better than Windows, says IBM, a not so small competitor. (For the youngsters, IBM was a large computing corporation of the time, once the very symbol of market dominance.)

The judgment the DOJ eventually won forced Microsoft to untangle IE from Windows. While there's no doubt IE had a huge advantage by piggybacking on every copy of Windows, I say “so what”. Can anyone imagine Apple being ordered to not ship nor require iTunes on the iPhone?

Gates wanted to kill Netscape Navigator because it made business sense. Probably every company wants to knock off their competitors, whether they come out and admit it or not. Look what Jobs did to Flash. I don't mean to pick on Apple. You should read about some of the dirty tricks pulled by Nintendo, IBM, Dell, etc. More than likely every company of any size has some contemptible actions in their history; these are just ones I happen to know about.

I like Bill Gates. At the same time, I can see how some people wouldn't like him. But let's keep things in perspective. We're lucky to have a hyper-intelligent, eminently competent man at the helm of the world's largest foundation.

I think it's a misconception we have in the US that polio is "disease from the 50's that's been eliminated". I know personally, I was surprised just last week when I went to my travel clinic, told them of an upcoming trip to Israel, and they recommended a polio booster. There's currently polio virus found in sewage in a modern country. Though no one has been found to have the disease in Israel, it's because of their high inoculation rate. In Syria, without inoculations, they are seeing an outbreak. Health organizers worry that the virus will spread around, by healthy people, who visit the region. Just shows how hard it is to completely eradicate a disease.

Also, the book Polio was a fascinating read about the history of the disease and vaccine.

I love what Bill Gates is doing. It seems he will be remembered more for his health care incursions than his tech-building. You always feel that weird confusing feeling about rich people donating very little slivers of money for public reasons. It seems such an "easy" thing to do rather than actually doing an effort. I can't say that about Bill.

IIRC, he was the one that changed Warren Buffet's mind on things like whether or not the rich should be taxed more.

interesting, got any sources? I had the impression Buffet had always had a pretty consistent view on this, but I'm not very familiar with him.

"27 million Indians born each year"

Now the next important thing to do in the 21st century is to educate all these people. I imagine with more automation, robotics, etc, people will need a good education to survive. Some people born today will be alive in the 22nd century.

The article mentions education along with clean water, health care etc. too.

> The accomplishments of India's vaccinators and children and politicians will not end when polio ends in their country. Now that they have found India's children, they can bring them and their families other vaccines, clean water, education, advice on maternal and child health, and support for agriculture—all the things that people need to live healthy and productive lives.

Too many people period. And no--education is not the answer. The world has to stop procreating--including Ameicans. Enough is enough. We are ruining this small planet for all species. The next time she opens the gates of hell--demand birth control. Yes--you.

Stop spreading alarmist FUD.

Overpopulation is not a threat[0]; if you really want to prevent further damage to the planet, start working towards things like sustainable energy, or better yet, improve the system that rewards irresponsible exploitation of the environment. What do you need to solve these types of problems? Education.

[0]: http://overpopulationisamyth.com/

The power of people to worry about imaginary problems never ceases to amaze me.

Overcrowded cities are a legitimate problem, but it's an issue of design and infrastructure and economics and politics rather than absolute numbers.

I don't know if overpopulation is a problem per se, but since pollution is roughly proportional to population, most of the environmental issues we face wouldn't be issues if we had 1/10 as many people.

nonsense - pollution is not roughly proportional to population. USA 5% of population, >45 % pollution / use of resources. drop the per capita footprint of the average American and you have a model for the rest of the world

you need to understand how evolution works. populations don't control themselves, they are limited by their environment, and thus far the environment hasn't acted to limit the species population, but it will. We've not be around that long, give things time. procreation is the only thing that a population does. the rest is fluff.

You left out the part that happens when the populations get limited by their environment. It's not pleasant for the species...

And I don't think it's fair to say that we can't possibly limit our population... strong social safety nets reduce the need for big families, and freely available contraception makes it feasible to limit family sizes.

As a matter of fact, population growth due to births in developed countries drops very low- IIRC, the U.S. fertility rate is actually below replacement levels, and fertility in Japan is so low that people worry about a majority of Japanese being retirees in coming decades. Furthermore, as still-developing countries catch up, they follow the same pattern. There's every reason to believe that sufficiently advanced human populations do indeed control themselves.

Not to say I agree with marincounty's vehemence on the issue, either. The key is to give everyone the opportunity and environment that allows sustainable reproduction levels, not to browbeat them into doing so.

In the long run, there are two kinds of species: those that go extinct and those that hit the carrying capacity. It is the simple math of exponential curves. A steady modest population would require artificial selection. I.e., fertility police who rule with an iron fist.

Guess what? The Internet will provide most of that education to those people in the future. But for Bill Gates, the Internet isn't a priority.

Not a priority over "basic needs" like food and health.

The perseverance and ingenuity of the Indian government and the NGOs needs to be appreciated. The success of polio eradication programme has been result of decades of work in India and Bill is trying to replicate the model in other parts of the world.

I still believe that it is his wife that has him doing this and that his wife got her devotion to such values from the nuns in her schooling. I have to conclude that Bill really loves, cares about, communicates with, respects, responds to, and trusts his wife. Smart guy, couple.

Apparently Melinda has, with Buffett and her call for 50% from other wealthy people, essentially raised $100+ billion. Smart girl.

Bill's approach to what you can and should do is simply amazing. I respect him for leaving the comfort zone of IT world (which he ruled at the time) and going after real people problems (affecting whole populations, no matter how technologically advanced the society is).

This is a very inspiring story. If you are even slightly interested in the fight against diseases like polio, this is an uplifting report which shows that with hard work, ambitious plans and great support serious, hard problems can be solved.

I love all the angst shown in some comments about the most successful "hacker" ever.

am quietly amused by this Mr. Gates is the co-founder and chairman of Microsoft and co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation does he need an introduction?

I'm having a very hard time being as enthusiastic about Bill Gates and his philanthropy as the rest of y'all are. I keep thinking about how he ran Microsoft during the 90's: ruthlessly to the point of being found guilty of abusing his monopoly by the DOJ.

I liken him to a mafia boss, donating money to charity after having amassed a fortune extorting and threatening people: can the money still be considered an honest donation or a PR effort to make ensure that the mafia boss is remembered in better terms than "antisocial criminal"?

Sorry, Bill. You may be far richer than I'll ever be, but my money is made honestly. I wasn't born rich, haven't built my whole empire on other people's work (QDOS was bought, Windows comes from OS/2, etc) and I haven't been found guilt of a crime by the DOJ.

Also: sorry people dying of diseases, that I can help y'all by being rich enough to buy small islands. The little, honest man is such a powerless pawn in today's money-centric society.

Here's an interesting hypothetical -- if Bill Gates had been less ruthless in extracting the most money he could during his heyday as Microsoft CEO in the 90s, would he have been able to save less people dying of Malaria today?

To put it another way, if everyone has bought less Microsoft products total throughout the company's history, what else would they have spent their money on? Maybe Gates' whole career was one huge egotistical venture into believing he could spend the world's money better than they could, and he saw his role at Microsoft as simply bringing that about in the most efficient way possible. I can't find many tenable reasons to disagree with that on a moral standpoint -- he has clearly done more good with his fortune than anybody else in recent memory.

There's no evidence Gates ever extorted or threatened anybody.

I also don't understand why anyone has a problem with Microsoft buying QDOS. Windows predates OS/2, too.

I admire Gates for turning his efforts towards solving some of the great problems of today, and succeeding.

I consider Bill Gates to be the modern equivalent of Andrew Carnegie. Both good and bad.

I can recognize the one without forgetting the other.

Exactly Andrew Carnegie sounds right.

As a business man, Gates was ruthless building his empire, but he will eventually do more good in areas that ultimately more important than computers.

When did Carnegie ship sub-standard steel the way MSFT shipped sub-standard software? The Bessemer process he invested in produced steel of higher quality.

EDIT: my point is, one guy advanced the state of the art and the other retarded the state of the art...

The fact that the parallel is not exact does not mean that it is not illuminating.

Bill Gates is an aggressive man. When turned to business, this aggression leads to the creation and abuse of monopoly powers, especially if there's an IBM to abuse in the early days. When turned to Public Good, it is just as fearsome in a more positive direction. It is, fundamentally, the same tool in both instances.

This reminds me of an old Orwell essay, "A Good Word For The Vicar Of Bray":


> Thibaw, the last King of Burma, was also far from being a good man. He was a drunkard, he had five hundred wives — he seems to have kept them chiefly for show, however — and when he came to the throne his first act was to decapitate seventy or eighty of his brothers. Yet he did posterity a good turn by planting the dusty streets of Mandalay with tamarind trees which cast a pleasant shade until the Japanese incendiary bombs burned them down in 1942.

> The poet, James Shirley, seems to have generalised too freely when he said that “Only the actions of the just Smell sweet and blossom in their dust”. Sometimes the actions of the unjust make quite a good showing after the appropriate lapse of time.


I cannot imagine being Bill's friend. I get the feeling this is the only thing this guy would ever talk about.

"Hey, Bill, want a beer?" "I don't think that would fit into my plans to cure the world's diseases."

"Oh. Hey, do you know what this Java programmer said to me the other day?" "I'm not sure that's really appropriate to discuss, given my other commitments."

He might be giving lots of money compared to most billionaires and me might successfully buy a pleasant historical picture of himself next century, but it'd be fantastic if he talked about something else for a change.

This is an article in a newspaper. What did you expect him to talk about?? It's something he's passionate about and the only reason he is in the newspaper is to publicise it. If you want to see other things he's interested in check out his blog[1] (The Gates Notes). He does posts on books he's reading (not all related to disease) and reviews them among other things.


Take one guess as to how how successful people become successful.

Hint: they are completely consumed by the problem and won't stop until it's solved.

> but it'd be fantastic if he talked about something else for a change.

Bill gives his opinion on something? I predict a comment saying "Who cares what he thinks? Why does he think I should be interested in his opinion? Hasn't he cured polio and malaria yet?"

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