Bill Gates donated an additional $2 billion to his philanthropic foundation, reinforcing the Microsoft Corp. chairman's intention to play a major role in global health policy.
The donation brings the endowment of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which already was the nation's largest, to more than $23 billion. In the past three years, the foundation has emerged as a significant new source of funds for global health initiatives, particularly in the development and distribution of vaccines for diseases that affect the developing world.
The latest gift increased speculation about the role the foundation may play at the United Nation's General Assembly devoted to AIDS later this month. Both of the Gates have expressed support for U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's call for a global fund of $7 billion to $10 billion a year to fight AIDS, as well as malaria and tuberculosis.
In March, Bill Gates met with Annan to urge him to create a central framework through which governments could increase their funding for AIDS prevention and treatment. A Gates Foundation spokesman said Gates's latest contribution was unrelated to the activity at the U.N. and said no decisions had been made about how to best support Annan's efforts.
Gordon Perkin, director of the foundation's global health program, said the foundation is unlikely to make a direct donation to the fund, but is discussing several new initiatives that might complement the U.N. effort. Among those is increased research into microbicides that could be used to reduce sexual transmission of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and a plan to offer debt relief to poor countries to enable them to increase their anti-AIDS funding. The foundation already has committed about $300 million to AIDS-prevention efforts, including more than $125 million to the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative.
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In her first major health policy speech last week, Mrs. Gates urged the U.S. and other governments "to commit unprecedented resources to the fight against AIDS." She said progress was possible, "but only if wealthy countries, starting with the U.S., increase their funding in a very dramatic way." The Bush administration has committed $200 million to the nascent U.N. global AIDS fund.
At the Global Health Council's annual awards dinner in Washington, D.C., Mrs. Gates said her husband and she were outraged that some vaccines, such as for hepatitis B, were available many years earlier in the U.S. than in underdeveloped parts of the world. "When an AIDS vaccine becomes available, we will make it available everywhere," she promised.
At the end of last year, the Gates foundation had total assets of $21.15 billion, and was liable for $2.11 billion in grant awards, according to the foundation's annual report. Last year's grants of $1.54 billion outstripped income from investments of $304 million.
Contributions from Gates come in the form of Microsoft shares, which are immediately sold, with the proceeds held in a diversified portfolio. In addition to global health, the foundation also makes grants for education and for activities in the Pacific Northwest.
According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, the Gates Foundation had the most assets of any foundation in the country. Following it on the list, published in February, were the Lilly Endowment, with $15.2 billion in assets; the Ford Foundation, with $14.2 billion; the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, with $9.8 billion; and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, with $8.7 billion.