Billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, in his second annual letter, has lauded the efforts of Congress MP Rahul Gandhi and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar in the area of healthcare.
While the former Microsoft chairman spoke about his first year of working with the foundation in his first letter, he devoted his second letter to ‘innovation’ and how it impacts priorities of the foundation. Gates recently joined the micro-blogging site Twitter (and has nearly 340,000 followers), rejoined social networking site Facebook and also launched a website — thegatesnotes.com — on which he shares his thoughts.
In his second letter, Gates notes: “One particular highlight from the year came last summer, when I traveled to India to learn about innovative programmes they have recently added to their health system. The health statistics from northern India are terrible — nearly 10 per cent of children there die before the age of five.
In response, the Indian government is committed to increasing its focus and spending on health. On the trip, I got to talk to Nitish Kumar, the chief minister of Bihar, one of the poorest states in India, and hear about some great work he is doing to improve vaccination rates.
“I also got to meet with Rahul Gandhi, who is part of a new generation of political leaders focused on making sure these investments are well spent. The foundation is considering funding measurement systems to help improve these programmes. Rahul was very frank in saying that right now a lot of the money is not getting to the intended recipients and that it won’t be easy to fix. His openness was refreshing, since many politicians won’t say anything that might discourage a donor from giving more. He explained how organising local groups, primarily of women, and making sure they watch over the spending is one tactic he has seen make a big difference. The long-term commitment to measuring results and improving the delivery systems that I heard from him and other young politicians assured me that health in India will improve substantially in the decade ahead.”
Gates is optimistic that, despite the tough economy, a combination of scientific innovations and strong partners working on behalf of the world’s poorest people will continue to improve the human condition.
“Although innovation is unpredictable,” says Gates, “there is a lot that governments, private companies, and foundations can do to accelerate it. Rich governments need to spend more on research and development, for instance, and we need better measurement systems in health and education to determine what works.”
Throughout his letter, Gates highlights innovations that are saving or improving lives and expanding opportunity. In the developing world, vaccines are thwarting preventable disease in children, new tools are aiding in the fight against malaria and HIV, and improved seeds and farming techniques are increasing agricultural productivity. In the United States, innovations are helping educators improve teaching and learning so that high school students graduate ready for success and are prepared to earn post-secondary degrees.
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