Press Room




Bill Gates
French-American Foundation
Paris, France
October 24, 2016

Thank you, Mr. de Puyfontaine.

It is an honor to be here this evening.

France is America’s oldest ally.

Our two republics were born out of sister revolutions, and our nations have stood together through conflicts that shook the world.

We have forged a lasting peace. And even when we have disagreed, our bond has endured.

Not far from here sits a statue of La Fayette, donated by 5 million American schoolchildren a century ago . . . while more than 3,000 miles away, the Statue of Liberty greets newcomers to America’s shores, a gift from the people of France.

We don’t share a land or a language. But we do share a world view – a world view shaped by the words of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen,

. . . by the ideas of great French thinkers like Descartes and his scientific method,

. . . by Montesquieu and his system of government checks and balances,

. . . and by Rousseau and his social contract.

Many of our best ideals – the ones that have made our societies more compassionate and advanced human progress – originated in France.

Today, we seek to build on this progress – and partnership is more important than ever in the face of a new set of 21st century challenges.

Both France and America have confronted heartbreaking and unconscionable acts of terrorism. And our national debates are fueled by some of the same issues. In this milieu, it is not surprising that people are concerned, fearful, and tempted to turn inward.

It is up to us to fight that temptation. We can’t solve the important challenges of our time if we turn away from each other, and turn away from the world. If isolation was ever an option, it is no longer.

In our interconnected world, inequality and poverty in one place will inevitably create ripples in another. And we know that shared problems like disease and climate change transcend national borders.

So we must meet this moment together, standing in solidarity.

Fortunately, history and recent experience both offer lessons in how we can address these challenges through partnership and innovation.

For most of human history, the world had no way to prevent and treat diseases. Even 100 years ago, the average age at which people died was 34. And child mortality was high. Today, life expectancy is double that. And in just the last quarter century, child mortality has been cut by more than half.

Much of this progress is due to advances in science that have given the world life-saving vaccines and drugs that prevent and treat disease. But many of these medicines haven’t reached people living in poor countries.

As recently as the turn of the new millennium, millions of children in poor countries were dying every year from preventable diseases, simply because they weren’t getting immunized with the vaccines that we have come to take for granted in developed countries like France and the U.S.

Millions more were dying from the epidemics of HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria – diseases that disproportionately kill people in poor countries.

One of the biggest problems was the gap between the needs of poor countries for lifesaving medicines . . . and the ability of the private sector to provide them.

Developing countries couldn’t afford them. And pharmaceutical companies had no commercial incentive to supply them.

The supply-demand equation was broken.

So donors like our foundation, France, the U.S., and others came together in the early 2000s to do something about it. We created two unique public-private partnerships. One, called Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance . . . and the other, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria.

The idea behind both of these efforts was simple, yet powerful: pool the demand for vaccines and essential medicines among dozens of the world’s poorest countries . . . and align the financial resources of those countries with development aid from donors like France, the U.S., and our foundation. By coordinating efforts, Gavi and the Global Fund created the predictability and volume that vaccine and drug manufacturers needed to offer their products at lower cost. For instance, between 2011 and 2015, Gavi brought down the price of immunizing a child with eight of the most important vaccines by more than 40 percent.

Creating this virtuous cycle of supply and demand has enabled Gavi to reach hundreds of millions of children in poor countries with vaccines – saving 8 million lives.

Using a similar approach, The Global Fund is providing treatments to millions of people with HIV and tuberculosis, and protecting many more from malaria with insecticide-treated mosquito nets. All told, its efforts have saved 20 million lives.

France has been a generous and consistent supporter of Gavi and the Global Fund, and we hope that continues because we still have a lot of work to do.

Nearly 6 million children under the age of five still die every year – mostly in poor countries and mostly from preventable causes.

We can bring that number down significantly by continuing to invest in essential vaccines and drugs.

But to really tackle the most basic causes of extreme poverty, we have to focus on improving the health and well-being of women and girls. And family planning is a key part of that solution.

In Africa, for example, many women don’t have access to modern contraceptive methods. This is critical to reducing the high rates of maternal and child mortality. And it is an essential building block for women and their children to prosper.

To ensure that women are getting the contraceptives they want – and the information they need to make the decisions that are right for them – we joined with France and other partners to create the Ouagadougou Partnership. This effort has already reached a million women in the Sahel with modern contraceptives, and the goal is to triple that in the next few years.

We can see by the scale of today’s global challenges that we also have to think boldly about how to encourage the scientific innovation needed to accelerate progress.

Over the last few hundred years, innovation – more than anything else – has made our lives better.

Before the Age of Enlightenment, almost everyone lived in extreme poverty. That changed when scientific discoveries led to huge advances– not just in health and well-being but also in productivity and prosperity.

France has a great tradition of scientific discovery. Indeed, many of our greatest advances in health and medicine over the past several centuries have come from French scientists.

Few people have saved more lives than Louis Pasteur. His work in germ theory led to the process of pasteurization, an enormous advance at the time. And he created the first vaccines for rabies and anthrax.

For more than a century, the institute bearing his name has been a pioneer in infectious diseases. Its scientists were the first to isolate HIV -- important work being carried forward by scientists at ANRS.

We partner with Institut Pasteur, in particular to support global health in Francophone Africa. This includes work on the availability of yellow fever vaccine. And in a collaboration with the African Academy of Sciences, we are supporting African scientists pursing research on health problems unique to the continent.

Sanofi Pasteur, which has its origins at the Pasteur Institute, is also an important contributor to global health. It is a key manufacturer of the polio vaccine, which is especially noteworthy today because it is World Polio Day. Without Sanofi, we wouldn’t be as close to eradicating polio as we are today.

MSF is another example of France’s contribution to creating a better world. It is, of course, best known for its outstanding and courageous humanitarian efforts delivering medical aid to people affected by armed conflict, epidemics, and natural disasters. Heroic work on Ebola.

Less well known, perhaps, is MSF’s dedication to tackling neglected tropical diseases like sleeping sickness. For the last 25 years, it has worked in sub-Saharan Africa to control and treat this devastating disease.

Many of the advances that have improved life and driven growth trace their origins back to government investments in research and development.

Philanthropic capital from our foundation and others can help, though it is a fraction of what’s needed to create health equity and tackle big challenges like clean energy and climate change.

Fundamentally, innovation starts with government support for research labs and universities where scientists are working on groundbreaking insights that entrepreneurs can turn into products that change the world.

One of these areas is energy. It is imperative that we develop new technologies that will make energy cheaper and reduce energy imports – without contributing to climate change or air pollution. But because it takes so long to adopt these technologies, energy research can take decades to pay off.

To jumpstart innovation, governments need to increase their support for clean-energy research. As the best early-stage ideas progress, entrepreneurs and private capital can drive innovation from the laboratory to the marketplace.

France understands how critical these early investments are. At the climate talks here last year, I was honored to stand on stage with the leaders of 20 countries that pledged to invest an additional $20 billion in clean energy research over the next five years. France played a key role in securing many of those commitments.

In a related initiative, a group of private investors, including Xavier Niel and me, pledged to take the best ideas and move them from the lab to the marketplace.

In another encouraging sign of progress, 170 countries – including France – signed a binding commitment last month to reduce the use of planet-warming refrigerants in consumer products like air conditioners and refrigerators.

In parallel, we joined with other philanthropic foundations to accelerate this effort by helping developing countries accelerate the phase out of these coolants.

France’s large energy companies, Engie and Total, are also getting on board. Although their core business has been focused so far largely on fossil fuels, they understand that affordable clean energy is the future. Engie is investing in a variety of renewable energy sources. And Total’s SunPower subsidiary is one of the world’s leading solar energy operators.

It is this kind of powerful combination of public and private investment – in energy, global health, and other areas – that will change the way we confront our most urgent challenges and ensure the health of our people and our planet in the 21st century.

People often ask what makes me optimistic about the future.

What makes me optimistic is that science is on our side. Never before have we had so many brilliant scientists working on new and better vaccines and drugs to protect us and give people the opportunity to live healthy and productive lives.

I’m also optimistic because the world has shown that even in times of uncertainty, leaders understand that helping the most vulnerable people lift themselves out of poverty is not only the right thing to do . . . it is also the smart thing to do.

I’m hopeful that France’s next administration, regardless of political persuasion, will continue to build on the progress we have made together over the years.

Helping the world’s poor is something that transcends political ideology. It is a higher mission that binds us all together as human beings in pursuit of the shared ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity.


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