Gates vs Shuttleworth

Some childish name-calling recently erupted on a forum that I frequent, which resulted in a philanthropy pissing contest. Some people said Bill Gates is saving lives through his generousity; some said Mark Shuttleworth is building futures.

Some were silly enough to suggest that Ubuntu is just a bunch of geeks getting their rocks off playing with their tech toys.

I replied:

I work in development, in a country that’s internationally known as a malaria hotspot. Several people I know are employed by Gates Foundation money, and everyone here agrees that this is a Good Thing. But there’s a limit to how much good this kind of thing can do.

One friend of mine once politely mentioned to a Gates Foundation researcher that we don’t really need to know much more about malaria in this country. All we really need is trained and equipped medical staff within a day’s walk of every man, woman and child. Malaria isn’t a terribly dangerous disease if it’s treated properly. I’ve had it myself, by the way, so I know whereof I speak.

The big problem in disease prevention around the world is an almost unbelievable shortage of health workers and medicines. Very little is being done to address these fundamental issues. Here’s an interesting series of facts:

  • Number of new doctors sub-Saharan Africa would need for its per-capita number to match America’s: 3,900,000
  • Number of new doctors produced by sub-Saharan Africa’s universities each year: 4,000

(Source: Harper’s Index.)

Again, I respect the work being done by the Gates Foundation, and I’ve seen its benefits with my own eyes. But to assume that those people working to try and improve education and communications are not involved in something equally vital is a little silly. In fact, it smacks of a holier-than-thou attitude that tends to tarnish most donor-driven projects, and often results in people chasing sexy aid projects at the expense of boring things like making sure that the local nurse has enough pills for everyone, and can order more when he needs them.