Gates CEO Discusses Foundation’s Challenges, from Zika to Common Core

Susan Desmond-Hellmann, CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, spoke to a roomful of attendees this morning at The Wall Street Journal‘s Viewpoints, an invitation-only executive breakfast series in which senior WSJ editors interview global leaders in one-on-one conversations.

Desmond-Hellmann, who has led the Gates Foundation for the past two years, has a singularly varied background: oncologist, professor, clinical scientist, and much more. Desmond-Hellmann leads Gates with a keen experiential understanding of the foundation’s challenges in areas like global health, including combating infectious diseases, reducing neonatal mortality; and battling the Zika virus by infecting mosquitoes with bacteria that makes it more difficult for them to transmit disease.

(The World Health Organization has advised couples in the Caribbean and Latin America to consider delaying pregnancy to avoid having babies with severe brain damage.)

Expertly interviewed by WSJ Deputy Editor-in-Chief Rebecca Blumenstein, Desmond-Hellmann elaborated on the foundation’s work and the problems it’s attempting to solve. Here are highlights:

  • “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 25% of Puerto Rico’s 3.5 million people could be infected with Zika by the end of the year.”
  • “Zika can also be transmitted sexually. All U.S. cases have been transmitted sexually or involved people who traveled outside the U.S.”
  • “One of our sustainable development goals is to cut by half the number of children that die under the age of 5.”
  • “Women in Asia and Africa who lose one baby to Group B strep are seven times more likely to lose their next baby to it as well.”
  • “In Ethiopia, we started with community engagement. So we spoke with church leaders and others first.”
  • “Precision medicine is a threat and an opportunity in a rich country, because it drives greater inequality.”
  • “Your health is determined by your social network.”
  • “I’m excited about public-private partnerships, because there’s talent, money, pace, and power in private industry.”
  • “Everything we do has a charitable intention.”
  • “The tagline of the Gates Foundation from the beginning has been ‘All Lives Have Equal Value.’”
  • “Common Core began as a national dialogue, not a Gates dialogue.”
  • “Only 40% of high school graduates are college-ready without remediation.”
  • “No one objects to having standards. So is the issue standards, or testing?”
  • “I’m a physician, so I believe in tests to see how we’re doing.”
  • “We have 6 million tobacco deaths annually.”
  • “Tobacco is the only product that used as directed kills half the people who use it.”

For more information about the work of the Gates Foundation, visit its website.