June 14, 2010 / 10:16 PM / 9 years ago

World's richest want better health for Latam poors

* Slim and Gates work on Latam health program

* Focus on indigenous communities

MEXICO CITY, June 14 (Reuters) - Carlos Slim and Bill Gates, the world’s richest men with a combined fortune of over $100 billion, announced a joint effort on Monday that will bring basic preventive health care to poor people in southern Mexico and Central America.

Mexican tycoon Slim took the top spot in the Forbes’ list of the world’s wealthiest for the first time this year. He and Microsoft’s (MSFT.O) Chairman Bill Gates will pitch in $50 million each to sponsor vaccinations, child nutrition and natal health for the region’s most poor.

The five-year program will target indigenous communities — particularly women and children — from Mexico across the Central American isthmus to Panama.

Slim and Gates are the wealthiest men in the world, but the entrepreneurs followed very different roads to riches.

With a childhood interest in computer programming, Gates left Harvard University without a degree so that he could work on software-development, which eventually led to the creation of Microsoft.

Slim, a born deal maker, spent his early life in finance before he bought state telephone company Telmex TELMEXL.MX TMX.N in 1990 in a move that saw his net worth skyrocket.

They have both made health a cornerstone of their philanthropy efforts in recent years.

“This is the first time that we have worked together (in charity) but surely it will not be the only or the last time,” Slim told reporters at Mexico City’s grand anthropology museum that celebrates indigenous cultures of Mexico and Central America.

While both men have donated a portion of their fortunes through their health charities, Gates has emphasized vaccine development and new health sciences and Slim has channeled much of his money to wellness, cultural and sports programs.

Both men, though, have emphasized the health and nutrition needs of the poor.

“Our foundation does a lot of innovation in terms of new drugs and new vaccines and what you need is both science to invent new tools and innovation and delivery to put those tools out,” Gates said. “I’m sure that we’ll find ways to work together on both aspects of improving health.”

While Slim has groomed his six children to continue his wealth and public interest, Gates, a father of three, has said that he expects to give away most of his vast fortune.

Slim has said that businessmen do more good by creating jobs and wealth through investment, “not by being Santa Claus.”

The new health initiative, which is also backed by the Spanish government, will be overseen by the Inter-American Development Bank and local governments. (Reporting by Cyntia Barrera Diaz and Patrick Rucker; Editing by Richard Chang)

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