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Melinda Gates speaking at the 10th anniversary celebration of the UW Department of Global Health. Photo credit Barbie Hull
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By Catherine Cheney

Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft and co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, upset some health officials when he asked six or seven years ago about the possibility of performing autopsies on babies to figure out why they were dying.

The anecdote appears in the Gates Foundation’s 2017 annual letter, released on Wednesday, and it points to just how data driven the billionaire philanthropist is in his approach to fighting disease and reducing inequality.

“Here was this black hole of health understanding, and they acted as if it would be impolite to find out more,” Bill wrote. In fact, the Gates Foundation went on to fund partners who developed a minimally invasive autopsy that uses advanced diagnostic tools to understand why children get sick and die. Last year, Gates was present at an autopsy of a baby boy who died three days after he was born outside of Johannesburg, South Africa.

This is one of the examples Bill and Melinda mention in their letter, which they addressed to Warren Buffett, the billionaire founder of Berkshire Hathaway, who doubled the resources of the Seattle-based Gates Foundation when he directed the bulk of his fortune toward supporting their work.

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The University of Washington Department of Global Health and Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation are mentioned in this piece. 

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