'The Bills' Discuss Global Health, Faith, Morals at Summit

NEW YORK – Bill Gates and Bill Clinton dropped by the TIME Global Health Summit on Wednesday to talk about their passion - global healthcare. Side by side with TIME Managing Editor James Kelly, both agreed that faith-based organizations play an all-important role.

"Some of the amazing groups that you run into are the religious groups," said Gates at the Nov. 1-3 health summit in New York, which was made possible by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. "It's fantastic. They're not highly visible, yet they're doing God's work in a pretty incredible way."

The Microsoft founder said he appreciated how religious organizations have provided "the lion's share" of workers that are willing to give their lives to save others.

Despite the tension between Christians and secularists, Clinton said the success rate is not hindered.

"There are some conflicts in some places," the former president acknowledged. "But [Christians] do more good than harm… I don't know what we would've done if they weren't there."

The Catholic Church has sparked controversy by staunchly advocating against condom-use even in HIV/AIDS programs. Clinton said every time he sits down to talk about HIV/AIDS treatment, someone always asks him about the Catholic Church being against condoms.

"When I was in Tanzania, the president proposed a new initiative that included a full range of treatment and yet heads of every major faith group in this country, including the local Catholic group, they were all there," says Clinton. "It's astonishing if you go on the ground in the clinics how much the human dimension drives people to the same place. On balance, all the religious groups have done way more good than harm. And when they have differences, they try not to let it get in the way of saving lives."

Despite tension between faiths and seculars in delivering an AIDS/HIV program or vaccination against polio, morals join them together. Morals are a primary motive for all global health initiatives.

"Money is not the problem," Clinton said.

In fact, "I think people are dying to make a contribution. The rise of the Internet as the tool of giving, the rise of NGOs, and the increasing openness of governments has made it possible for people to do public good greater now than at any other time in history," he said. "The ten richest people and the next hundred and the next thousand would give if they have a high level of confidence that it would work."

And he believes that young people and older retirees especially are "yearning" to make a difference if they only knew where to invest.

While Clinton also names economics as another incentive for Americans to do something about the global health crisis, Gates gives primacy to morals alone.

"The other arguments are good," he says "but the humanitarian arguments have got to stand on top."

Gates grew up with philanthropic parents who taught him to give. As the world's richest man in 2004, according to Forbes, he can afford to do so on a large scale.

Clinton, on the other hand, grew up in a small town in Arkansas and understood problematic healthcare at the ground level. His interest in the issue has only grown since his administration ended in 2001.

The two are doing their parts to fill the vacuum: Gates in researching successful models and implementing it through NGOs whose work he may fund, and Clinton, in raising money, lobbying for support and giving a familiar public voice for the millions who cannot speak.

"Everyone's playing to their strengths," says Gates.

The TIME Global Health Summit has convened over 600 leaders from government, faith, science, civic society, and the arts for three days of intense education on how to make global healthcare a possibility for the millions dying of malaria, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and other diseases.