Wiser to be prepared for future pandemics: Gates

Microsoft founder calls for focus on equitable health

Hyderabad: Lavishing praise on India for its exemplary role in containing the Covid-19 pandemic, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates stressed on the importance of building new capacities for equitable health to ensure that the world is prepared when the next pandemic strikes.

In a fireside chat with industries minister K.T. Rama Rao during the two-day BioAsia 2022 conference here on Thursday, Gates said India stood out in creating vaccines with global partners and also in its vaccine coverage. He highlighted the need to build upon the capacity in India as a reserve for future pandemics.

“India did two things that stand out -- creating great vaccines with global partners, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and getting those vaccines out. India’s vaccine coverage is very impressive, much better than most rich countries. That is quite phenomenal,” he said.

He said that there is a global need to spend more on research and development and infectious diseases. “Infectious diseases are quite modest when compared to cancer or a heart or neurological disease, and yet, this pandemic is a reminder that we have to do a better job on those too.”

Gates said that the opportunities for innovators are all over in India and it should be seen as an opportunity to improve everyone's health. He mentioned that his upcoming book will focus on the lessons learnt from the pandemic and the significance of funding the private sector and academia to build better diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines and research.

Despite accelerated biological innovation across categories, including in antiviral drugs and antibodies, it is the quality and the costs that should be taken care of before the next pandemic hits -- in the backdrop of the looming backlog of routine immunization, he cautioned.

Responding to Rao’s observation of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) being a sustainable development problem, Gates said “The international health metrics attribute 1.3 million deaths to microbial resistance. We see AMR for pneumonia, typhoid, and pregnant women closer to delivery.”

Gates added, “What we need to do is develop better antibiotics to attack these diseases with new small molecules, drugs, or in some cases antibodies.”

On opportunities for Telangana to work in tandem with Gates Foundation, he indicated that they look forward to partnering with Indian players who blend innovation and affordable gene therapy. “The beauty of the Indian ecosystem is that it not only goes after innovation but also goes after the cost issues.”

On the next big technology in health, Gates picked the idea of diagnosing with digital tools.

“I think sensors to check the health and using artificial intelligence as a viable preventative tool. Digital tools bring a lot of challenges like privacy, but they all are solvable.”

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