06 February 2002
Philanthropists, Politicians, Pop Stars
They didn't want Bono on The Oprah Winfrey Show talking about debt
relief, writes Jennifer Barrett of Newsweek.
He was probably the only participant at the World Economic Forum's
conference who wore matching silver hoop earrings and blue-tinted shades.
But if Bono diverged from the corporate and political leaders attending the
meeting in his choice of attire (and profession), he found common ground in
his choice of subject-matter.
The Irish superstar and debt-relief activist sat between U.S.
Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates and former
Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo during a standing-room only session on
Saturday to discuss third world development
Bono said he finally began approaching politicians last year because
he couldn't get on TV.
"I learned they don't want me on Oprah Winfrey talking about debt
relief...It's more difficult than you might imagine to get attention to
these issues; hence, the unusual juxtapositions," he said, gesturing at
Gates, who sat beside him in wire-rimmed glasses and a navy-blue suit.
Despite their differences, the panelists seemed eager to align
themselves with the singer in his push for wealthier countries to commit
themselves to alleviating poverty and health problems in the Third World.
"Now is the time," said Gates. "I hope governments see this as the turning
Even O'Neill, who defended the Bush administration's reluctance to
substantially increase foreign-development aid, referred to Bono as "my good
friend" and agreed that the United States should help close the gap with
poorer countries. "If we want to do something really important, we need to
help every society in the world to become an income-producing mechanism,"
said O'Neill. "We have an in-between question of how do we provide potable
water and elementary education and HIV treatment and healthcare. But the
essential question is: how do we help people create the circumstances so
that they become instruments of economic-generation and wealth
For Gates, the first step is keeping them alive and healthy. The
billionaire urged the United States to increase the amount it is spending on
health programs in developing countries from $6 to $40 a person, enough to
cover vaccinations for all children in developing nations and save the lives
of millions each year who are dying from diseases that are treatable or
vaccinated against in countries like the United States.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation - the largest in the world with
its $24.2-billion asset base - has placed its focus primarily on improving
healthcare and increasing immunizations in developing countries from
Thailand to Tanzania. On Saturday, Gates announced that the foundation would
award $50 million in new grants to help prevent the spread of HIV, the virus
that causes AIDS. Cases of AIDS have decreased in the developed world. But
15 million Africans have died of the disease and another 25 million Africans
are now HIV-positive, threatening to make 40 million children orphans by
"It's an everyday holocaust there," said Bono. "These people are too
poor to get out of poverty."
More on this story at www.msnbc.com