Melinda Gates and her husband, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, launched their namesake foundation in 2000 with the aim of improving lives through health care and access to education and technology.
At a ceremony in London Friday night, Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs, awarded her its annual prize for making the most significant contribution to improving international relations in the previous year.
Britain’s Prince William presented the award with this tribute: "With an equally remarkable husband Bill, Melinda set up the [Bill & Melinda] Gates Foundation to change the world – and changed it she has, transforming the lives of women, the poor, the sick and the disadvantaged in Africa and elsewhere."
The foundation also has been deeply involved in the fight against Ebola. Most recently, the foundation has given $5.7 million toward blood plasma trials as a treatment.
Melinda Gates warned against generalizations about the disease.
"People talk about the runaway Ebola epidemic, which is absolutely crucial to talk about and it's devastating, but we also connect other issues to it that we shouldn't," she said. "We talk about a continent that's been ruled by dictators and corruption. We talk about Africa sometimes as hopeless, and I'm here to tell you that is absolutely not the case."
Gates warned that the disease is "knocking flat" the health systems in the worst-affected countries of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.
"There’ll be almost 800,000 births this year in those countries. The women aren’t going to clinic now because: one, the clinics are being devastated; but two, they’re terrified to go that they’re going to get Ebola.
"What’s the biggest killer of women today aged 15 to 29? Childbirth."
Championing several causes
Chatham House commended the foundation’s work on eradicating polio. The United Nations says Africa could be polio free in 2015.
The foundation also has invested in mobile technology across the developing world, transforming the ability of farmers to connect to potential buyers and sellers.
In recent years, Melinda Gates has directed much of the foundation’s work toward improving women’s rights, health and education.
"If I say how in my lifetime can I double the impact of what the foundation has, it’s by taking this gender lens and focusing on women and girls," the philanthropist said.
Access to contraception is high on the foundation’s agenda.
"Women will tell you over and over again, 'I cannot negotiate [using] a condom even in my own marriage, because I’m either suggesting to my husband that he has AIDS or that I have AIDS,' " Gates said.
Melinda Gates follows in the footsteps of another globally known American female. Last year’s Chatham House Prize winner was Hillary Clinton.
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