By Zeena Saifi and Eoin McSweeney, CNN
Some of the world’s richest men are squaring off in what’s become a rivalry for the ages — the space race. Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, the two richest men on the planet and the CEOs of SpaceX and Blue Origin, respectively, have grand designs on the cosmos. They predict a universe where the internet is accessible from anywhere, humans are an interplanetary species, and rotating space stations host permanent residents.
But Bill Gates isn’t putting his wealth into these off-planet endeavors.
Gates, the fourth richest person alive, according to Forbes, has what he considers higher aspirations right here on Earth. While internet constellations like SpaceX’s Starlink and Amazon’s proposed Project Kuiper aim to bring for-profit fixes to the world’s pressing connectivity issues, Gates told CNN’s Becky Anderson on Wednesday that more basic problems consume his time now.
“The space race, a lot of that is a commercial market. Having great internet connections throughout Africa is a good thing. Using observation satellites to see what’s going on with agriculture and climate change. So that’s not philanthropically motivated altogether. I do hope that people who are rich will find ways to give their wealth back to society with high impact. Clearly, they’ve got skills. They can’t, or shouldn’t, want to consume it all themselves.”
“Until we can get rid of malaria and tuberculosis, and all these diseases that are so terrible in poor countries, that’s going to be my total focus,” he said.
And his philanthropic efforts have already made strides. A Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation partnership with the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Court has just successfully helped eradicate onchocerciasis, commonly known as river blindness, in Niger, the first African country to do so.
The disease is transmitted to humans through exposure to repeated bites of infected blackflies and can cause permanent blindness.
More than 99% of people infected with river blindness live in 31 African countries, according to the World Health Organization,
“Having Niger be the first country declared completely eliminated of river blindness, it shows we can get it done for the whole continent.” Gates said.
The Microsoft founder says if he had one aspiration for 2022, it would be to eradicate polio.
“That’s a big, important cause to me. So, if Afghanistan can stay stable, it looks like we’ll finally get wild polio down to zero. And we’ve been working on that for over 20 years.”
But there are many challenges. Gates says because people around the world don’t see these diseases, initiatives to help cure them are vastly underfunded.
“We really need to invest in the health of Africa, so children survive, so they have good nutrition and that’s the future, so they can be well educated and lift up the continent… So we’re always going out and saying we want more governments and philanthropists to get involved.”
Over ten years ago, Bill Gates, along with Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett, created the Giving Pledge — a commitment made by 40 of America’s wealthiest people to give the majority of their wealth to address some of the world’s most pressing problems.
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