New Delhi [India]: India’s fight against the COVID crisis has set a positive global example, said Mark Suzman, CEO of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, adding that it can be a model for others on how it addressed the manufacturing and distribution of vaccines at such a scale.
“We were proud to be able to help work with the Indian government and with partners like the Serum Institute of India, to help manufacture some of the vaccines and to help with some of the primary health care facilities to help with distribution and in some of the states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar where we work closely, but it really is a model both because of the direct COVID response, but also because the infrastructure that’s been put in place has lots of positive effects by other forms of healthcare,” Suzman told in an exclusive interview.
According to India’s health ministry’s latest data, it has administered over 2.2 billion doses.
Asked what challenges the foundation faced during and post-COVID, the pandemic has had a devastating impact, and more so the knock-on impact on economic growth on poverty and people’s health.
“Yes, well, globally COVID has had a devastating impact. And not just in terms of the direct impact of the disease itself, but the knock-on impact on economic growth on poverty on health. So across large parts, I think around a third of the developing world is likely to be in recession,” he said.
However, he believes India is in a “bright spot” as the country has accelerated its broader healthcare ecosystem. “From vaccination campaigns to nutrition campaigns to sanitation campaigns. And so in all of those areas, we’re trying to sound the call to action and saying the world really needs to support and engage much more deeply so that we can start to accelerate progress again.”
Gates Foundation has been working in India for nearly two decades, and it works across a number of sectors from agriculture to financial services, and health, among others.
Further, on India’s G20 Presidency, he said the Indian government has already shown a strong commitment to driving forward in mitigating global health issues, and broader development issues like digital infrastructure, and financial services, which again can be examples of India addressing some of these issues.
“And so I think that the government of India’s stated ambition to try and tackle both those things, the issues of pandemic preparedness and global health response so that we can both finish the job on COVID and be ready to address the next pandemic, but also to think about these wider development challenges and using new tools like the digital financial infrastructure that India has developed through UPI, but also some of the new initiatives like the use of environment Digital Health Initiative, which we think again as some very positive models that we’ll be able to use in Africa and other parts of the developing world,” the CEO said.
Meanwhile, on Monday, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced that it will spend USD 8.3 billion in 2023 in its continued efforts to fight poverty, disease, and inequity.
By 2026, it aims to meet its commitment to reach an annual payout of USD 9 billion by 2026.
On the pledge for 2023 and its commitment to fight malaria through equipping partner countries, Suzman said: “Malaria kills hundreds of thousands of people every year still and is responsible for many millions of cases. India has made great strides addressing some of the most serious incidents remaining in sort of central and west Africa, but they’re also it’s in South Asia and Latin America.”
He continued there have been a number of steps — from the provision of new insecticides and mosquito nets and other treatments and tools in malarial areas, which have been very successful.
“There are some new scientific advances using monoclonal antibodies, which is sort of complex and still expensive, but we’ve seen 80 to 90 per cent success rates in addressing malaria and we think those are going to be the tools that over the next decade or two, the world will actually move from containing and preventing malaria to eventually eradicating it. And that is our innovation,” he further said.
The foundation’s mission is to see a world where every person should have the chance to lead a healthy and productive life.
Finally, asked about is the foundation also working on reverse zoonosis, he said they are talking with the department of biotechnology in India, adding the foundation is aware of those challenges of how animal health is linked to human health.
“We also are global supporters of an initiative called the Coalition for epidemic preparedness initiative (CEPI) which is a major global effort that is trying to develop protective vaccines against other diseases that could become future pandemics. And so, we work on all of those areas, but really in partnership, we don’t take the lead on those research. We do it through coalitions with partnerships with governments like India or the United States.”
An infection or disease that is transmissible from humans to animals under natural conditions is called reverse zoonosis.