“Giving money and making money have a lot in common. At Microsoft, there are problems that don’t appear solvable. At the Gates Foundation, we have to understand vaccines, drugs and drug trials. In both, we can tell if we’re doing okay, whether by counting wealth or reducing childhood deaths every year,” says Bill Gates, 55, Microsoft founder and co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
On a three-day mission to India to convince wealthy Indians to give away some money to the poor, Gates on Wednesday visited Sabjpura village outside Patna — in one of the eight Bihar districts Bihar benefiting from the Foundation’s US$80-million grant to improve mother-and-child health.
Pentavalent combination vaccines that provide immunity against five common infections — diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus (DPT), hepatitis B and Hib (Haemophilus influenzae b) — figured in his meeting with health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad. “I’m a big believer in the pentavalent vaccine. Scaling up coverage from two to five states in India hasn’t been on track, but it looks like they (the government) will go ahead now.”
Aggressive vaccination in UP and Bihar has brought down polio cases from 741 cases in 2009 to 42 in 2010.
Of the 8.1 million deaths per year of children under 5 years, over 40% happen in the first 28 days of life (neonatal deaths). “When it comes to saving lives, nothing comes closer to vaccines and some good things have been done. In 1995, there were 5.6 million neonatal deaths, which has been almost halved to 3.6 million,” he said.
India is the biggest recipient of Foundation grants, getting approximately US$1 billion of the foundation’s US$ 14.35 billion in grants for global health.