What America's Richest Man Thinks We Should Do About Ebola

PHOTO: Bill Gates talks about the Ebola crisis in West Africa during the Politico Lessons from Leaders series at the Bank of America offices, Sept. 29, 2014, in Washington.Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Bill Gates talks about the Ebola crisis in West Africa during the Politico 'Lessons from Leaders' series at the Bank of America offices, Sept. 29, 2014, in Washington.

America's richest man has a plan to fight Ebola, and he isn't shy about trumpeting its greatest benefactor: the United States.

In his first interview since donating $50 million to counter the quickly-expanding threat of Ebola in West Africa, Bill Gates outlined the obligations America has in shaping the institutions that will curb the crisis.

He told an intimate audience at the Bank of America building in Washington, D.C., today that the Ebola outbreak is "a great example of where the world needs to come together."

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The $50 million pledge through his foundation is intended to "scale up" the fight, letting the money be released in "flexible funds" to United Nations agencies and global organizations that can purchase medical supplies and support facilities treating the outbreak.

Gates also cited the expertise of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as evidence of America's responsibility to step in and help. He referred to America's ability to counteract health crises as "the best in the world."

"The U.S. is the leader in being able to move into areas like this," he said.

After President Obama told the U.N. last Thursday that the crisis is "a marathon, but you have to run it like a sprint," Gates echoed the urgency, telling the audience that "the next few months will be really tense." To effectively stop the spread, Gates said he believes the appropriate infrastructure must be in place within the next month.

"What happens when you have people panic is that the entire health system shuts down," he said.

Politico, which hosted the highly-choreographed event, inadvertently caused a clumsy exchange about a key issue in the Ebola emergency: the success and timeliness of the global reaction to the outbreak.

Politico's White House correspondent Mike Allen, who moderated the event with Politico editor Susan Glasser, promoted a new article on the website that details the criticisms of the response to the calamity. But Gates was unconvinced.

"Unless you have an algorithm for the future ... I'm pretty impressed with how quickly people have stepped up on this," he said.

Though he said he believes the epidemic "would have been caught a month or two before it was" had the sufficient systems been in place, he nevertheless praised Congress' generosity: at least $175 million has been committed by the U.S. government, and the U.S. military is looking to give $500 million in "humanitarian assistance" that would be redirected from its budget. Almost 3,000 American troops have been mobilized to offer support to field hospitals and training facilities for health employees.

"There's an overall approach now," Gates said. "And the U.S. as usual on world problems [is] stepping up both in terms of the science, the understanding, and now the U.S. military's logistic ability to get supplies in and create field hospitals that are critical."

"If we can stop Ebola when it's just these three countries [Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea] ... building back up primary health care should be pretty straightforward," he added.

The eventual goal should be to not just rely on American and global institutions, but to encourage a kind of grassroots support for bearing the burden, Gates said.

"Getting as many Americans out in action to see this ... that’s our best tool," he said.