Bill Gates, co-founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, on Friday denied knowledge of the controversy over alleged violations of ethics during clinical trials of HPV (human papilloma virus) vaccine conducted by a U.S.-based non-governmental organisation for a pharmaceutical company.

Bill and Melinda Gates had funded PATH, that conducted the ‘trial for a pharmaceutical company in the backwards districts of Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat. The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) that had approved the clinical trials asked the State governments to stop any further trials after the matter was brought to their notice.

Attempting to steer clear of the issue, Mr. Gates told a group of journalists here that HPV had been approved for private marketing in the U.S. and many other countries were using it. However, while insisting that he did not have any knowledge of the issue, Mr. Gates asked the journalists they were aware of the condition of cervical cancer patients. “You should visit a hospital where women with cervical cancer are treated. It is a bad disease,” he said.

High point

Talking on a wide range of issues, primarily revolving around health, Mr. Gates said the high point of his visit to India was his interaction with the women's groups in U.P. and Bihar.

“You hear their stories and see their energy levels. You ask them what is the first vaccine for a child, they will say mother's milk within one hour of birth. I had not heard of this but it is scientific as the milk has lots of antibodies,” he said.

Low-cost vaccines

On his visit to Amethi with Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi and to Bihar, where he signed a memorandum of understanding with the State government, Mr. Gates said the focus of the Foundation would, however, continue to be on healthcare, particularly low-cost vaccines to prevent millions of child deaths because of diarrhoea, measles, and Japanese encephalitis, among others, that presented a high burden of diseases.

Appreciating India's performance in eradicating polio, Mr. Gates said that job turned out tougher than expected but pointed out that this year should be a good year for polio. The next eight months would show how the country performed in eradicating the virus in the 107 blocks in Western Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, where incidences were still reported.

Amused at the popularity of mobile phones in rural areas, Mr. Gates said he was impressed with the way immunisation coverage had increased from 11 per cent to 50-60 per cent in a few years in Bihar.

The modes of payment under the Janani Suraksha Yojana and the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, too, left a positive impression on him.

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