Bill and Melinda Gates Tout Success of Global Health Initiatives

Photo: Charles Gibson interviews Bill and Melinda Gates on World NewsFred Watkins/ABC

In a wide-ranging interview with ABC News' Charles Gibson Tuesday, billionaire philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates said Americans should "feel good" about the U.S. government's generosity abroad and enthusiastically support the work of publicly and privately-funded health initiatives worldwide.

"It's not often you hear about a government program that's gone so well, in fact, even better than expected," said Bill Gates. "We think when people hear about that, they'll support what's only a quarter percent of the budget being continued and even increased."

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Watch Bill and Melinda Gates' interview with Charles Gibson tonight on World News at 6:30 p.m. ET.

Gates, the founder and former CEO of Microsoft, says the millions of dollars spent by the U.S. government on vaccines, drugs, and training for health workers around the world – far more than any other government or foundation – has made a huge difference and has saved millions of lives.

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"There's been a perception in the past that [the money] goes to the dictator, that it's not well measured," said Gates. "In fact, these health programs have been designed in a different way…so, we're bringing those stories here."

The couple is launching what they call the Living Proof Project to showcase success stories of their foundation's work around the world.

Find the full interview and videos from the Living Proof Project in our special global health section.

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"There's something that seems strange in this modern world, that you have to make ads and you have to make films and you have to say, 'Look, we're showing progress,'" remarked Gibson during the interview.

The Gateses said publicizing the outcomes of U.S. taxpayer-funded initiatives lends credibility to the effort, particularly at a time when many Americans may feel skeptical of how their money is being spent.

"I think really what we're trying to say is that the U.S. government has made huge investments already, and we want people to know that they're working," said Melinda Gates.

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Gates: Vaccines Are A 'Miracle'

Melinda Gates says she and her husband also hope proof of past success will garner support to tackle existing health crises like the high mortality rate of newborns and their mothers worldwide. "We think there should be a little bit of an increase in U.S. government funding, but not a substantial increase" for these areas which have seen less progress, she said.

The Gates Foundation, which is perhaps most widely known for its ambitious, decades-old global vaccine initiative, has struggled in recent years to bring in broad contributions from foreign governments and private donors.

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"We would like to see more [contributions] because vaccines are just such a miracle," Bill Gates told Gibson. "When I look at…this immunization effort, 2.5 million kids are alive because of that effort that wouldn't have been there before. So when I go out and meet people and see what the difference is, then you don't lose hope."

He told Gibson that while many global health groups focus on treatment of the sick, his focus is on developing new vaccines to prevent the spread of diseases like tuberculosis, malaria and AIDS. He said vaccines are inexpensive tools that give lifelong protection.

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"In the long run, it's self-sufficiency that we're aiming for," he said.

Gates concedes that is often easier said than done. Corrupt and unstable governments, widespread poverty, and gender inequality can undercut efforts to improve health in what he called "the toughest countries in the world."

"We want to give people a sense of where things have gone very well and admit that, in a few cases, these conditions make it tough and the progress has been less than we hoped for," Gates said.

Still, Bill and Melinda Gates say, the story of the few should not overshadow the "overwhelming impact" of money well spent. "The U.S. has a view of equality that, you know, doesn't stop at the borders… In terms of how people think about the United States, I think it's a very positive thing," Bill Gates said.

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Gates Discusses Life After Microsoft

Asked about the ongoing health care debate in the U.S., Gates said it's a very complex topic but entirely separate from the mission of improving global health.

"As much as is broken in U.S. health care," Gates said, "we can assume our children by and large are going to live healthy, long lives... The U.S. wants to improve. That's a fantastic thing. But we can do both."

On the economy, Gates said the stabilization of the financial markets is "great for the world" and that "people will debate for decades" which measures have facilitated the turnaround.

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He told Gibson that he continues his involvement with Microsoft, the company he founded in 1976, although the Gates Foundation remains his primary focus. "I love the work that Microsoft does," he said, "I love the magic of software even now." Gates stepped down as CEO in January 2000.

As for his prediction about the future of personal computing, Gates said "the ability to have the computer see you, see gestures you're making...voice interaction… that's coming more and more," he said. "And so this kind of natural interface will make the computer more pervasive -- less, you know, this single device."

Watch Bill and Melinda Gates' interview with Charles Gibson tonight on World News at 6:30 p.m. ET.