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May 24, 2002

"When the well is dry, we know the worth of water." —Benjamin Franklin


At the recent United Nations Special Session on Children, Microsoft's Bill Gates made a presentation on children's health. In part, he said...

"Is the world going to take care of its children? That is the question we came here to answer. While many important issues will be discussed at this historic Special Session, it's my belief that improving health is the best way to start improving the future for our children.....We have to do three things:

"First, we must increase the visibility of what is happening to our children. Health inequalities continue to worsen. I believe this is because people who see the worst of it don't have the resources to defeat it, and the people who have the resources to defeat it don't see the worst of it.

"I believe that if you took the world and you randomly re-sorted it so that rich people lived next door to poor people -- so that, for example, people in the United States saw millions of mothers burying babies who had died from measles or malnutrition or pneumonia -- they would insist something be done. And they would be willing to pay for it.

"Second, we can't just tell people about the problems. We have to tell them about effective, affordable solutions -- about how little money it takes to save a life.

* If people knew that the measles vaccine costs only a quarter...
* If they knew we could prevent children from dying of malaria with a bednet that costs just $4...
* If they knew we could prevent a child's death from diarrhea for 33 cents...

"If they knew these facts, more and more people would provide the resources needed to solve these problems.

"The third critical element is political leadership. This is something that only the distinguished guests in this room can provide. Foreign aid and foundation giving can achieve important advances, but the big examples of national successes have all required political leadership...

"With more visibility and more resources and more political leadership, we can eradicate diseases like polio. For fifty years children have suffered from a disease we know how to prevent. Let's end it. Let's eradicate Guinea worm. Let's get vaccines to every child and save 3 million lives every year. Let's recommit ourselves to developing and deploying vaccines against AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. If we do this, we will change the world's view of what's possible.

"It all depends on our answer to the fundamental question: Is the world going to take care of its children? It's our choice. But we must choose now. Personally, I hadn't planned on getting involved in philanthropy until later in life..when I could devote full time to it. But the more I learned, the more I realized there is no time. Diseases won't wait. So I committed myself to this cause, and I will keep that commitment for the rest of my life."

For more details on the UN Special Session on Children, go to the www.unicef.org.


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