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Bill Gates and PATH CEO Steve Davis in Seattle this morning.

Bill Gates appeared at a special breakfast in his hometown of Seattle this morning, supporting a $100 million public fundraising campaign by the Seattle-based global health nonprofit PATH.

The campaign aims to tackle challenges in malaria and reproductive health, while improving the health and lives of women, infants and children in developing nations. PATH, led by CEO Steve Davis, is a longtime close partner and recipient of funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Speaking with Gates on stage, Davis asked the Microsoft co-founder why he remains optimistic about the prospects for continued breakthroughs in global health. Gates acknowledged that it can be daunting to consider the statistics, including the millions of children who die unnecessarily before the age of 5 around the world.

“The thing that’s hard, I think, is when you first learn how tough conditions are in poor countries,” he said. “But then as soon as you see that, you can see the rate of progress, where we’ve taken understandings in biology or now even digital technologies and cell phones (to improve lives in poor countries). The rate of improvement in these poor countries is pretty incredible. ”

Gates added later, “We have all sorts of innovation on our side. Now, we have to be smart about drawing in the best scientists to work on things like malaria, (where) the normal market mechanism wouldn’t draw them in.”

That’s where he sees PATH and other nonprofits making a big difference, with philanthropic contributions helping to counter those market forces.

Earlier in the presentation, the crowd hear from Fiona Walugembe, a PATH employee who manages the Sayana Press project in Uganda. Sayana Press is an all-in-one injectable contraceptive device, providing broader access to contraception.

Fiona Walugembe shows the Sayana Press, right, and the traditional form of injectable contraceptive.

Walugembe explained how access to mobile technology has helped to open the eyes of people in Uganda to the need for family planning.

“People realize that having many children means more poverty, more illness and less opportunity,” she said. “Almost everyone in Uganda has a cell phone. This is making parents aware of opportunities for their children.”

Gates concluded his talk by encouraging the Seattle audience to get involved with PATH’s work — to see first-hand the challenges around the world, and the opportunity to make an impact.

“Then you will be stuck,” he said, to laughter from the crowd. “You will not be able to give up being involved in these things.”

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