India's success in polio eradication has infused positive energy into the global campaign against the disease, Bill Gates, founder-chairperson of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, said on Thursday.
Terming India's experience with polio eradication a “big thing,” he said he had spent more time on this programme than anything else. “It is a real achievement.”
Interacting with a group of journalists here, Mr. Gates said India kept upgrading the quality of its polio-eradication programme, expanding its reach and improving upon social marketing. “We have [a] lot of lessons to learn from it.”
He expressed the hope that Asia would be polio-free, with Pakistan and Afghanistan making efforts to eradicate the disease.
Mr. Gates, who met with a nine-member Pakistani delegation which was here to learn from India's campaign, said the situation in that country was different, as many people still did not know that the disease travelled with people. “Pashtuns are migratory in nature. …but mapping has not been done so far… Pakistan has very few cases of polio in inaccessible areas, particularly in the northern parts and those bordering India, that need to be addressed,” he said. Pakistan was making progress and had put a top team on the job, so his Foundation was pumping money into the programme.
“Every country has unique circumstances. In India, the government was the primary backer of the polio eradication programme with a large number of contributors.”
After successfully completing the AVAHAN Project on HIV/AIDS, the Foundation was concentrating on vaccinating children against such infectious diseases as diarrhoea, pneumonia, polio and malaria. It was collaborating with Indian pharmaceutical companies and the government on new drugs for these diseases.
Given India's size, health was a big challenge, he said, requiring substantial work that still needed to be done. Everything was getting better, except the slow progress in vaccination, though the introduction of pentavalent vaccine was a positive sign. He lauded India's decision to make tuberculosis a notifiable disease, but noted that cases of drug-resistant and extreme drug-resistant tuberculosis were a problem.
Earlier in the day, Mr. Gates and his team called on Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare Ghulam Nabi Azad. They discussed issues relating to the immunisation programme, pentavalent vaccine, HIV/AIDS and infectious and non-communicable diseases.
Mr. Gates was particularly appreciative of India's achievement in containing AIDS, polio management, reproductive health initiatives, and also the recent steps for tuberculosis management. In fact, India's progress exceeded his expectations, he said.