One of the world's richest men and most active philanthropists, Bill Gates, surprised many when he brandished a jar of human waste at a forum on the future of the toilet in Beijing.

The stunt was an effort to draw attention to a problem affecting developing countries around the world: not enough toilets.

"In places without sanitation you have got way more than that," Mr Gates said, pointing to the faeces inside the clear canister resting on a table.

"And that's what kids when they are out playing, they are being exposed to all the time, and that's why we connect this not just with quality of life, but with disease and death and with malnutrition," he told attendees.

The billionaire has used part of his considerable fortune to provide clean, comfortable sanitation facilities to the nearly half of the world's population that suffers without.

"When you think of things that are basic right up there with health and enough to eat, you think that having a reasonable toilet certainly belongs on that list," Mr Gates said.

He has previously used shock tactics to draw attention to his disease-battling efforts.

In 2009, he released mosquitoes at a Technology, Entertainment, Design (TED) Conference in California to make a point about the deadly sting of malaria - waiting a minute or so before assuring the audience the liberated insects were disease-free.

Mr Gates was in Beijing for the "Reinvented Toilet Expo", a forum hosted by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation showcasing various cutting edge toilet technology in lieu of sewers, making them easier and cheaper to install the devices.

The world's second largest economy is in the midst of a drive to improve its bathrooms, a campaign President Xi Jinping has dubbed the "toilet revolution".

China has made great progress in improving health and sanitation for millions of people, Mr Gates said.

"China has an opportunity to launch a new category of innovated non-sewered sanitation solutions that will benefit millions of people worldwide."