Microsoft Co-founder and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Co-chair Bill Gates was all praise for India for development, manufacturing and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines and termed the country's vaccine coverage as "very impressive".
He said that the Gates Foundation is working with its partners in India not just for Covid vaccines but using new platforms like mRNA to make vaccines for diseases like HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria.
Speaking virtually at BioAsia 2022 during a fireside chat with Telangana's Industries and Information Technology Minister K. T. Rama Rao on Thursday, he noted that India stood out for two things - creating great vaccines with global partners including Gates Foundation, and getting those vaccines out.
He said companies like Serum, Bharat Biotech, Biological E and many Indian partners really stepped up and they did fantastic job.
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"India's vaccine coverage is very impressive even better than most rich countries. This is quite phenomenal. The design of vaccines, manufacturing and distribution of vaccines all of that handled well and that ended up saving massive number of lives," he said.
The philanthropic billionaire said in future, Gates Foundation would like to work with partners to make vaccines even faster and have even better vaccines that could avoid breakthrough cases.
"We have a research agenda with our partners in India not just for Covid vaccines but also for creating new platforms including m-RNA and building up capacity as a standby for future pandemics. The new platforms can also be used to get vaccines for some of the most difficult diseases like HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria," he said.
Replying to a query from the minister, Gates said the world learnt a lot during this pandemic. "The speed with which we responded was not as fast as it would have been ideal. Getting diagnostic capacity up and quarantine people when the level of infection was low...only few countries like Australia did that. On the other hand, miraculous things happened. Development of vaccines is really incredible."
Gates, who had predicted the pandemic in 2015, said the last gigantic pandemic was almost 100 years ago but it won't be long until the next one breaks. "It won't necessarily be a coronavirus or even flu. It is likely to be respiratory virus with all human travel we have it can spread in such a rapid way," he said while revealing that he is writing a book which deals with this in detail.
He, however, next pandemic won't be like this. He said in this pandemic millions of lives were lost, health system was disrupted and economies suffered. "We need to be better whether it's lives and economies and make sure this does not happen."
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"We do need to get the world to spend more on R&D infectious diseases in some rich countries are sometimes ignored because the disease burden is quite modest compared to cancer, heart disease and others. This pandemic reminder we have to go back and do a better job to improve health equity," Gates said.
He noted that India is in transition as it has some of diseases of rich countries which are becoming a challenge and still some infectious diseases. He said innovators all over in India see this as an opportunity.
Gates pointed out gene-therapy is now a ray of hope for conditions like sickle cell anaemia but is now prohibitively expensive. The effort should be to bring down the costs drastically to bring it within the reach of many people and this could take 10 to 15 years, he said.
Asked about antimicrobial resistance (AMR), Gates said that AMR continues to be a big challenge and accounts for a significant number of deaths across the world. The disease burden is more in developing countries. Newborns contract pneumonia in many cases. "We should get rid of the infectious diseases. Incredible work is happening in the area of biology. We should find ways to cure HIV and malnutrition," Gates said.
Gates, who visited Hyderabad twice in the past, said he was looking forward to getting back to Hyderabad as soon as things opened up.
To another question by KTR, Gates said that he is anxious to visit Hyderabad. "I have a lot to thank the vaccine companies for their key role. They have made them not just for India but for the world," he said.