Child Health Conditions Improving in India but More Budget Needed: Bill Gates

Child health is improving in India year by year but both the central and the state governments need to invest more money to get rid of the deaths and improve the nutrition, Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates said Tuesday. He said the vaccine coverage rates have gone up a lot in India and new vaccines which are brought in would have a big impact. “Well, definitely, year by year, child health in India is improving. And the Indian government and a lot of state leaders deserve credit for doing things like improving vaccination coverage,” Gates, who now heads the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, told reporters during a conference call. Responding to a question on his impression about the situation of health and education, Gates recollected when he and his foundation started in Bihar and UP, vaccine coverage was below 40 percent. This he said was causing hundreds of thousands of deaths that were not necessary. While a lot of good things have happened, he said, India had been somewhat behind on malnutrition problem.

“I would say that the overall budget, the amount going from the federal and state level into health still falls short of what we think should be invested to get rid of the deaths and improve the nutrition,” Gates said. “But, overall, the trends are very positive and we have great partnerships there where we’re working all the time, particularly in the north, but also at the federal level to improve health and improve nutrition,” Gates said. India’s new digital infrastructure gives some good opportunities to address some of the key challenges of poverty, health and education, he said. “India, in terms of wireless coverage, including data capability, actually India has been making huge progress as the private sector, including players like Reliance, have driven out the infrastructure,” Gates said.

“So, there are a lot of interesting opportunities to use that digital infrastructure both to track what’s going on say the supply chain for primary healthcare centers, or to track the workers there and using cell phones to make sure that as they step through the processes, they’re fully informed,” he said. He said one of the big initiatives that his foundation had in India was working with the central bank to authorize digital money so that the transactional costs for even the very poor would be super low. “Then you have people like Nandan Nilekani doing things in education, like EkStep, where using the mobile phone to help even fairly young children, I see a lot of promise in that. So, the infrastructure does give us some good opportunities, Gates said. – Business Standard

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