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Exclusive: Bill Clinton and Bill Gates on AIDS

NBC’s Campbell Brown interviews the former president and Bill and Melinda Gates as they travel around Africa to see progress treating the disease.
/ Source: TODAY

In an exclusive interview, NBC’s Campbell Brown talks with former President Bill Clinton, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, and his wife, Melinda, as they travel around Africa to provide medical care and medicine to those on that continent who are infected with the HIV virus and those who have AIDS. Clinton wanted to get a firsthand look at the progress being made to treat — and possibly prevent — the deadly disease. For part of his trip in South Africa and Lesotho, the Gateses joined him. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has invested billions of dollars around the world to fight diseases such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. 

The former president has established groups to provide economic development and health care. At the Microsoft Government Leadership Forum in Cape Town, South Africa, Clinton and Bill Gates will join government and business leaders from across the world to discuss the role of technology in African development. Then Clinton travels on to Rwanda, Malawi and Ethiopia. In an interview for “Today,” Brown talks to Clinton and the Gateses in Africa.

Frankly, when they travel together, they make an odd threesome. The outgoing former president dives into crowds, while Bill and Melinda Gates, who are far more reserved, hang back. But the three of them are making enormous commitments to fight AIDS in Africa. During our interview, they take us to hospitals and research facilities they are funding there.

Campbell Brown: When you see a place like this clinic, or the place we went and visited this morning, do you feel a sense of accomplishment or also a sense of urgency?

Bill Clinton: Both.

Brown: That there’s so much to be done?

Melinda Gates: Absolutely both — and a sense of hope. I mean you come to a place like this [a clinic], and you see these patients who want to get tested, because they have hope, because there are medicines available. That’s completely different than just a few years ago.

It is Melinda Gates who has beenthe Gates Foundation’s driving force. But her husband recently shocked the business world by announcing he’ll join her full-time, putting Microsoft on the backburner.

Brown [to Bill Gates]: Why now? What was the trigger point?

Bill Gates: You know I — I love both things. But I decided that Microsoft had great people. And that these issues were pressing.

Brown: Some reluctance?

Bill Gates: Well, I’m reluctant to give up — some of — I’ll only be part-time doing great software. And that’s been my life’s work. And I’m sure I’m gonna miss that. But I get to fill it in with another thing that excites me — and challenges me.

Brown: Talk to me about working together so closely on this.

Melinda Gates: Well, it’s great fun to be able to work with your prime partner on something like this, that you feel so deeply about.

Brown: Do you debate ...

Bill Gates: Both thinking about it ...Brown: Do you debate?

Bill Gates: Oh sure.

Brown: About who gets what?

Bill Gates: [Laughter] Well, you know we discuss which projects, which people … You know how to deal with things when they don’t work. There’s plenty to talk about.

While the Gateses’ focus primarily is on funding research to prevent diseases, Clinton has focused on treating AIDS patients and negotiating lower prices for AIDS drugs for patients in poor countries. His close friend Nelson Mandela asked for his help.

Clinton: When I came to Africa in my second term, I saw how much denial there still was, how much of a crying need [there was], and how many people were needlessly dying. And I listened to [Mandela] talk about it. And he’d tell me that, when he left office, that was what he was going to do. We started together. I mean, literally as soon as I walked out the door of the White House, he asked me to work with him.

One of the Clinton Foundation’s greatest success stories is a new hospital in the countryside of Rwanda. Clinton is giving special attention to this place. He says he is still haunted by the genocide that happened here in 1994 and is trying to atone, in some way, for not acting to stop the killing.

Clinton: Part of it is I want to spend the rest of my life making up for a decision I didn’t make and that I regret [not making]. But as they all say — if you talk to them — they’ll say, “Well, at least Bill Clinton apologized. Nobody else ever did. And, after all, we did do this to ourselves. Nobody made us do this.”

For more on Brown’s exclusive interview with Clinton and the Gateses,