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Bill Gates looks to work with India on e-health

Microsoft and Gates Foundation co-founder Bill Gates.

Bill Gates, American computing colossus and co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has announced his intention to work with the Indian government on social projects driven by information technology (IT) and e-health is one of them.

Calling government spending on health in India “very inadequate”, the multi-billionaire extolled the virtues of e-health, saying it would help governments invest in health, by allowing them to “understand where the money will go.” He recommended that India should spend “at least 2% to 2.5% of the GDP” on health “to get the job done.” Public health spending in India was 1.4% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2014, according to figures released by the World Bank.

E-health is uncharted territory for the Gates Foundation, at least as far as India is concerned. Health Issues India wrote earlier this year of the favourable financial prospects of digital technology start-ups working in the healthcare sector. This may encourage new investors as e-health is now seen to be economically viable as well as socially beneficial.

Gates – who currently tops the Forbes list of the richest people on the planet – met with Electronics and IT Minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad, in New Delhi on Thursday, November 17, during a three-day sojourn in India that included a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. After the meeting, Gates was quoted by the Economic Times et al. as saying that it is “very exciting times for India…some of these digital platform opportunities are quite amazing.”

The philanthropist also specified the need to work on “health issues [and] health applications.” He added that relations with the Ministry would be “critical” to the Foundation’s work in that area.  

Gates has expressed optimism about the prospects of e-health and the positive impact technology can have on healthcare delivery systems in terms of telling governments ‘what [is] working and what [isn’t]” – pointing to its efficacy in combating tuberculosis and eradicating polio.

More broadly, Gates was reticent on the topic of demonetisation and the government’s decision to discontinue Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes, stating “I have no opinion.” He did, however, tell the Economic Times that he anticipated that “India will go digital very quickly. And I think it will be incredibly beneficial.”

Prasad was effusive in his praise for Gates, calling him “a true friend of India”, and described the meeting as “very profitable.”  

The Gates Foundation is the world’s largest private foundations, with eight offices worldwide, including in New Delhi. The foundation lists health as one of the four areas where its efforts are focused in a bid “to transform the prospects for India’s most vulnerable communities”, with its work in the sector including

training community health workers, expanding the delivery of proven interventions, improving healthcare management and oversight, and expanding private-sector delivery of primary care for mothers.

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