Bill Gates at the 5th Ramnath Goenka Memorial Lecture that India can develop and rapidly adopt high-quality but low-cost innovations. Report by Enona Dutt
The first 25 weeks of the Covid pandemic destroyed 25 years of progress in global health, and three years later, most countries’ health systems are still not fully operational. Bill Gates. Bill Gates on Wednesday said that Covid has fueled a wave of innovation in healthcare in India.
With a record of vaccine development and a digital public infrastructure platform, Gates said India has the potential to develop into a center of “innovation and ingenuity” to herald a “new era of global partnership” that can tackle the world’s greatest challenges, Gates said during the fifth Ramnath Goenka Memorial Lecture.
Underscoring the power of innovation to overcome disparities and India’s role in the “huge, global innovation boom”, Gates said: “When I was at Microsoft in 1998, we chose to set up a development center here. We did it because we knew that India would play an important role in the global innovation ecosystem. Not only as a beneficiary of new developments, but also as an innovator in them. Also, India can keep pace with developments, develop high-quality yet cost-effective innovations and adopt them at a rapid pace. Vaccines are a prime example of this.
When it comes to tackling the world’s biggest challenges like climate change and healthcare, India has a significant role to play. Gates said, highlighting the country’s cost-effective innovations such as the rotavirus vaccine, which has saved lives globally, and biofuels and fertilizers from waste to tackle climate change.
Author, philanthropist, investor, technology founder, and co-chair and trustee of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Bill Gates began his lecture by talking about a New York Times front page article from 25 years ago. Three million children die of diarrhea every year, and 90 percent of them are from developing countries. He said he had concerns about his newborn daughter, but diarrhea was not among them. He spoke about India’s journey to the point where 83 percent of the country’s one-year-old children receive the rotavirus vaccine, saving 200,000 lives every year.
While childhood vaccination rates in India are rebounding to pre-pandemic levels, Gates said it could take another three years to catch up in many other countries. He also talked about innovations during the Covid-19 era and India’s ability to develop cheap kits and scale up testing.
Later, in a conversation with Indian Express Executive Director Ananth Goenka, when asked about the balance between encouraging innovation and sharing technology, Gates said that a “sort of ideal” solution exists in the sector. The return on investment for companies comes primarily from sales in rich countries, followed by sales from middle-income countries. Low-income countries have to pay for the cost of making the drug. For climate technologies, market competition and political processes “come together.”
Big Pharma has made incredible discoveries, coming up with new types of obesity drugs and continuing research for an Alzheimer’s drug, so “I’m not in favor of cutting the dividends on medical innovation,” said Bill Gates. “Most emissions come from rich countries, yet most of the damage will be in middle-income and low-income countries near the equator. That is incredibly unfair. And as it gets to you, we need to act now, and we need to act in a big way. Gates said when talking about the climate crisis.
One of the challenges facing climate change, Gates said, is the “green premium” that comes with products made without emitting greenhouse gases. “If you try to buy green jet fuel, it costs twice as much. If you want to buy cement without emissions, it will cost twice as much. Now weather can be said to be important, hence that extra cost to carry Gotta get somebody. But sadly, it can be trillions of dollars a year. For this, even the rich countries don’t have the funds,” he said, adding that the climate crisis is an innovative challenge that shrinks the green premium.
The challenge is “massive innovation” to ensure the world achieves net-zero emissions “without the high costs of becoming green premium”. About climate change, Gates said. “It is unfair that those who have done the least to cause climate change suffer the most,” he said. “I have never been so optimistic about the potential of new technologies to improve the world in my lifetime,” he added.
In his welcome address, Raj Kamal Jha, editor-in-chief of The Indian Express, said Gates brought “science and hope” to perennial questions. Citing his remark, “Innovation is a hammer, I apply it to every nail I see,” Jha said, adding that the nails Gates saw “expanded the basis for social change and benefit for all,” from education to public health.
This was the first Ramnath Goenka memorial lecture after the pandemic. The first lecture named after the founder of Indian Express was delivered by then RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan. Later, President Pranab Mukherjee, Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar gave speeches.
Minister of State for IT Rajeev Chandrasekhar, NITI Aayog Vice Chairman Suman Berry, NITI Aayog member Dr. VK Paul, Chief Financial Advisor V Anantha Nageswaran, Bharat Biotech Founder and Chairman Dr Krishna Ella, Plaksha University Vice Chancellor Rudra Pratap, Medanta CMD Dr Naresh Trehan and Sreenath Reddy of Public Health Foundation of India were among the guests.