Tag Archives: Bill Gates

“The Rock Star Microbiologist”


I only rarely report on other people’s work, but I will make an exception for Bill Gates…

The Microsoft founder gave the opening lecture at the ASM microbe conference in Boston, to an audience of about 7000.  Due to the profile of the speaker, the event had a little bit of a feel of a rock concert about it, without the mayhem of course!

Nevertheless, I was very impressed by him as a speaker. He focused on Global Health and the work of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in reducing mortality from Infectious Diseases. Although he is not a microbiologist, you would not have known, and he had good conceptual understanding of the important issues.

He spoke about the drive to eradicate polio, and the fact that “The last one percent is the hardest”, requiring a huge amount of funding to get rid of those last few cases. There are now only a couple of dozen new cases of polio per year worldwide. Afghanistan and Pakistan are the two remaining countries with active cases, mainly due to difficulties in getting good vaccination coverage in Taliban controlled areas. At around US$ 500 million, polio currently accounts for the largest portion of the Gates Foundation annual budget (everyone has a budget, even Bill Gates!). He pointed out that in terms of “money invested per life saved”, this is now an extortionate amount, but the long term benefits (both financial and health related) will be worth it once eradication is achieved…

Amongst other things, he also talked about malaria eradication plans, using gene editing of mosquitos in order to interrupt transmission. The same technology could obviously be used on other mosquito borne diseases such as Dengue and Zika. It sounds as though this technology won’t be far away.

Lofty ambitions indeed, but I guess what else would you expect from the person who had such an impact on the development of personal computers.

I left the amphitheatre feeling somewhat small and irrelevant in comparison, but very inspired nonetheless…