In the battle to stop AIDS, no private partnership has fought harder than the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has invested more than $2 billion worldwide. Last night, CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric spoke exclusively with Melinda Gates about why she has made fighting AIDS such a priority.
Gates: Bill and I founded the foundation on the premise that all lives on this planet are equal, and we really believe that. AIDS is one of the biggest scourges that our planet faces today, and it's one of the most critical diseases. That's why we've chosen to tackle it with the foundation.
Couric: I know that much of the funding for the foundation goes to develop a vaccine to prevent the spread of HIV. How close are we to developing such a vaccine?
Gates: Unfortunately, on the front of the vaccine, it is the ultimate solution, but it's over a decade away, which is why we think (it's) all the more reason that today, we really also need to focus on prevention — making sure people understand what is available to them today to stop spreading the disease.
Couric: At the same time, one of your leading researchers, Dr. David Ho, who we just profiled, says the virus seems to be winning — especially since so many people die every year from AIDS. Have we turned the tide at all?
Gates: I think we have a long way to go, to be honest, to turn the tide. I think that we're making strides in certain countries, I think, in places like Thailand and Uganda, where they started to break the epidemic early in those countries, those are absolutely places where you see some promise. A place like India, you need to get in there, and we're starting to, to break the back of the disease before it gets into the widespread population. But that's the way to do it, because once it becomes, as we're seeing widespread in Africa, it's significantly reducing the lifespan of people in those countries. It's a very difficult disease.
Couric: Your foundation has given you an extraordinary opportunity. I'm just curious — on a personal level, how has this work changed you?
Gates: You can't travel to the developing world and not be touched by it. You can't sit down with a mother in a village and hear what's going on for her in that village when she has AIDS or her husband has it or her child has it. And it makes me all the more impassioned here when I'm back in Seattle when we are putting our best hearts and minds and working with the best scientists to make sure we're trying to really solve these really difficult diseases for those women that they are facing out in those villages.
Couric: Melinda Gates, thank you so much for talking to us on World AIDS Day.
Gates: Thanks for having me join you.