Greater private sector innovation, digital tools key to quality healthcare at low cost for poor in India: Gates
New Delhi: Greater private sector innovation and use of technology like digital tools would help India provide quality healthcare services at low cost to poor people, billionaire philanthropist and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates has said, listing priority areas of his foundation for the country.
In an interview to PTI, Gates complimented India on a range of programmes like digitisation of payments to benefit poor citizens, sanitation and polio eradication, adding his foundation is in the process of taking some of the successfully implemented ideas in the country to African continent.
Gates is currently on a three-day visit to India to review work of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which has been working in areas of health-care, sanitation, agriculture and financial services for the underprivileged people in India for over a decade.
In the health sector, the foundation has been supporting government agencies to meet ambitious goals of eliminating infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, lymphatic filariasis and visceral Leishmaniasis.
Gates said he is meeting private sector companies in both health and agriculture sectors in India to have an update about some of the innovations .
"Because, after all, providing healthcare at low cost, India needs a lot of great private sector innovation in that. And I'm sure a number of those will not just be applicable to India; there will also be things that are valuable for the work we do in other countries, as well," he said.
He further said: "Our biggest work has been broadly in the health area helping to get new vaccines introduced, helping to look at innovations in some of the disease-specific areas, like tuberculosis or visceral leishmaniasis (VL) or lymphatic filariasis (LF)."
Gates said one of the "great triumphs" of the Indian health system was the elimination of polio.
"And we're not done in the rest of the world, but India's great work there set an excellent example. And we're building on a lot of that expertise to now go after visceral leischmaniasis and lymphatic filariasis," he said.
According to estimates, India accounts for one out of four cases of Tuberculosis worldwide, and the disease kills nearly 1,000 Indians each day. India has more than 50 per cent of the world's burden of both LF and VL and these diseases also tend to disproportionately affect poor people, with devastating financial and social consequences.
"We're learning a lot about how we can create dashboards so that primary healthcare system can look at what it's doing well, things like vaccine coverage, which is very key, or the quality of the pre-natal or delivery-type services," he said.
The 64-year-old billionaire said the primary healthcare system and its quality is the backbone for everything.
"There's also a lot of really good work on specific diseases that India's partnered with us on each of those, and there is good progress. VL cases have gone down. With LF, we have this triple drug therapy. Where we have tuberculosis, we have a way of engaging the private sector, and so the amount of diagnosis and treatment is going up," he said.
"And the ultimate metric really is about child survival and reduction in the diseases that affect adults," he explained.
He said private sector innovation and use of technology like digital tools would help India provide quality healthcare services at low cost.
Gates said if programmes to eliminate VL and LF are efficiently implemented, then the number of cases can be brought down to near zero in less than five years. He also hailed India's vaccine manufacturing sector, calling it a world leader in it.
About primary healthcare in India, he said there are states where it is "super good". He even said the healthcare facilities in states like Kerala are among the best in the world.
"We need the quality, particularly in the states that are less well-off. We need to continue to improve the primary healthcare quality," said Gates.
"There has been improvement. If you take vaccine coverage in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, when we first started the partnerships, which was almost 10 years ago now, the coverage rates were actually fairly low. And they've gone up. They're still not up at as high a level as we'd like to see, but the overall design of the system I think is quite good," he said.
Gates said the effort of the foundation has been to use digital tools and dashboards in a better way so that performance in implementation of the programmes can be effectively monitored and it is ensured that the supply chain is working well.
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