- Bill Gates: I was thrilled when President Obama invested resources in containing Ebola
- "Ebola isn't going to get to the level of something like malaria or an HIV," he predicts
- Gates says U.S. has the ability to handle the logistics of a large emergency operation
- Digital revolution has transformed nonprofit work, he tells D.C. gathering
One of the world's most successful innovators and philanthropists defended the U.S. response to the deadly Ebola epidemic Monday, saying he doesn't think the government waited too long to act.
Bill Gates, speaking at a discussion hosted by the website Politico, said he was thrilled when President Barack Obama decided to invest resources in containing the virus as it threatened to spread from West Africa into other regions and continents.
"Was there some other government who took decisive action before we did? Was the data really clear?" Gates asked during the discussion. "Is there someone else who's research is going to give us the vaccine that will be the key to making sure this outbreak doesn't happen again? The U.S. is the leader on being able to move into areas like this and help out."
The Microsoft billionaire, listed as the richest American by Forbes magazine, is co-chair along with his wife of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The two have tasked the foundation with battling the spread of polio and malaria as well as Ebola.
Gates did acknowledge that it took time for countries and leaders to realize the seriousness of this particular outbreak. However, he sounded confident that the situation will be handled effectively.
"Ebola isn't going to get to the level of something like malaria or an HIV, because I do think we're stepping up and will respond," Gates said.
Gates praised U.S. ability to handle the logistics of such a large emergency operation -- by moving resources and medical workers in and out of the region quickly and efficiently.
"The U.S., as usual on world problems, is stepping up in terms of the science, the understanding and the U.S. military's logistic ability to get supplies in and build hospitals that are critical," Gates said.
The discussion, held in Washington just a block away from the White House with a sweeping view of the National Mall, also turned to political gridlock in Congress.
Gates said the gridlock was concerning as it led to a Congress that failed to tackle immigration reform and allowed investment in energy and medical research to tail off.
However, he also underscored that the United States has historically found bipartisan consensus on global health issues. Gates argues that the simple principle of treating all lives as equal, no matter where people live, is essential.
"Of all the dollars spent by the U.S. government, the most impactful are these global health dollars. More lives have been saved and improved per dollar by a huge amount."
Even as Gates remains optimistic about the U.S. government and its ability to help people, you won't see him donating millions to a political candidate any time soon. When it comes to changing the world, Gates explained, he tends to stay away from politics.
"I don't think my backing, putting a lot of money into political contributions, is a way I'm going to try and improve the world," Gates said. "I just don't chose to pour money into that type of vehicle."
However, that's not say he doesn't appreciate strong leadership. Gates said one of the leaders he admires most in the world is the late Nelson Mandela.
"Mandela told people something they didn't expect to hear from him, which was that revenge and evening the score of how they'd been treated was not in their interest," Gates said. "The country had to move forward, had to embrace everyone who lived there, the economy had to lift everyone up."
Gates also commented on the culture of innovation in the U.S. and Silicon Valley in particular. He said that even as tech companies focus on seemingly superficial problems such as hailing a taxi or counting calories, the digital revolution created tools that transformed philanthropy and nonprofit work around the world.
"We are getting more and more people participating, and the very tools of the digital revolution, the ability to share things on the Internet and share large amounts of data, those tools are absolutely phenomenal," Gates said. "When you have this glum mood that people are in, they don't see that innovation is actually moving faster today than ever before."