In a move to bolster Bihar's public health standards, the State government on Wednesday signed a Memorandum of Cooperation (MoC) with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, who visited Bihar on Wednesday, signed the agreement in the presence of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar with the objective of accelerating State-wide improvements in maternal, newborn and child health.
Speaking to journalists at the event, Mr. Gates said Bihar remained a priority as far as immunisation drives were concerned, and stressed on the reduction of infant mortality rates, full immunisation coverage and breast feeding.
Terming the MoC a “milestone,” he expressed satisfaction at the progress in reducing the number of polio cases in the Kosi belt areas, along with the strides being taken to improve women's health in the State.
The Bihar government and the Foundation anticipate the programmes and activities governed by the memorandum to have a five-year duration, from 2010 to 2015.
According to the MoC, the Foundation will provide technical, management and program design support via NGOs in the areas of maternal, neonatal and child health; maternal and child nutrition; vaccine-preventable diseases, tuberculosis, pneumonia and Kala-azar, among others.
While the MoC applies to all 38 districts in Bihar, the Foundation will initially start work in the nine districts of Patna, Banka, Khagaria, Begusarai, Gopalganj, Saharsa, Samastipur, and East and West Champaran.
Earlier in the day, Mr. Gates visited the Alauli block in Khagaria and the Katoria block in Banka district to review the Foundation's work on polio, Kala-azar and tuberculosis eradication programmes.
He also reviewed the progress of schemes for alleviating maternal and infant mortality rates in these areas.
“We discussed in what areas we could cooperate. Initially, we decided to start with nine districts in order to scale-up the work being done there,” said Mr. Kumar, expressing his appreciation of the partnership.
Lauding the work done by the Foundation in Bihar, the Chief Minister said that “the State immunisation rate, which was previously a mere 11 per cent, had shot up to 60 per cent due to the efforts of the Foundation's workers.”
Mr. Kumar said issues like health and governance were also discussed in detail, adding that the government would be eager to expand the partnership in the near future. “We also look forward to the Foundation's cooperation on issues like Integrated Child Development System,” Mr. Kumar said.
Admiring Mr. Gates' credo that “every human being's life is to be valued,” Mr. Kumar said it was commendable more so as Mr. Gates came from an industrialised and capital-rich country.