Microsoft co-founder (and the world’s richest man) Mr. Bill Gates was recently in India to explore, learn and be updated about innovations happening in the healthcare and agricultural sectors with some private sector companies. During the course of his visit, Mr. Gates met up with healthcare leaders of the likes of Dr. Naveen Nishchal (Chairman of VOH and Co-founder Meddo | Cygnus), Dr. Ashwin Naik, Mr. Vikas Bhadoria, Mr. Varun Gera, Mr. Saurabh Kochhar, Mr. Satish Kannan, Mr. Gaurav Agarwal, Mr. Prashant Tandon and Ms. Geetha Manjunath. This exclusive meeting was aimed at helping Mr. Gates understand the business climate of the healthcare sector in the country from personalities who are involved in it deeply - from the grassroots levels upwards. Innovation-driven leaders such as Dr. Nishchal offered a unique window for Mr. Gates to get an up-close view of the challenges in the terrain, and how disruptive thinking by a bold new generation is converting them into opportunities.
Mr. Bill Gates’ visit to India featured 3 key focus areas:
1. The first was the impact of technology and digital health.
Be it diagnosis, monitoring, reach, operations or day-to-day management, digitization - in sync with mHealth (mobile healthcare), AI (artificial intelligence) and IoT (internet of things) – has the power to usher in a revolution of unprecedented scale. Its importance in growing economies like India – where traditional systems pose forbidding challenges in terms of infrastructure, skills and costs – is even more. With technology in his genes, it is natural for Mr. Gates to take a special interest in the niche.
In the opinion of this intrepid change leader, most technologies can be shaped to have more benefits than negatives. Start-ups can shape the disruption roadmap in a major way. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has been supporting many start-ups in the health sector, Mr. Gates shared.
Mr. Gates was of the strong opinion that Digital Health must receive the highest priority from all stakeholders. The ultimate metric of success is child survival and reduction in the diseases that affect adults," he elaborated.
2. The next area that Mr. Gates wanted to stress was affordability.
Primary healthcare that is accessible is, according to him, the backbone for development. His position on the issue was clear: Illness and maladies are burdensome as they are. No one must have to undergo the additional hardship of finances when it comes to treatment. Especially in a country like India where a substantial portion of the population resides under (or hovers around) the poverty line, affordability assumes primacy in policy. In this connection, it must be noted that there is already a concerted effort in this direction by the state via the pan-India Ayushman Bharat.
One of Mr. Gates’ big dreams for India is to rid the country of malnutrition since it is impacts childhood and, by extension, the country’s future and workforce.
So what is the way forward? Strategic investment, greater private sector innovation and the use of technology (including dashboards for effective monitoring) featured high on Mr. Gates’ prescription for change.
3. The third takeaway from the visit was the critical urgency of preventing communicable diseases.
Identifying this as a big focus area for a growing economy like India, Bill Gates, who is also the co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that is doing extensive humanitarian work across the world including India (for over a decade in India), dwelt at length on vector-borne diseases such as dengue and malaria.
He also made it a point to draw attention to the effect of climate change. As the planet heats up, mosquitoes gain the ability to live in higher altitudes, and begin inhabiting hitherto unexplored regions. All countries – rich or poor – would have to participate in mitigating climate change, since 60% of the world’s population lives in developing countries.
A pat on the back
Bill Gates had a generous word of praise for the considerable advancement that has happened in disease amelioration and healthcare in India. The World Malaria Report released by the World Health Organization (WHO) in November 2018 mentions that India is on track to achieve a 20-40% reduction. That apart, India’s eradication of Polio, digitization of payments (that is benefitting the poor in particular), reduction in childhood death, increased life expectancy and progress achieved in the areas of VL and LF drew admiration from the living legend. Indeed, he hailed India's vaccine manufacturing sector as a world leader.
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