India showed great global leadership in response to COVID-19 pandemic: Gates Foundation

India showed great global leadership in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and if there was a UN-mandated sustainable development goal for its management, then the country would have registered tremendous success, Bill Melinda Gates Foundation CEO Mark Suzman said on Tuesday.

In an interview to PTI, Suzman said India has been a great example of how to continue with the development trajectory notwithstanding various challenges and that models developed in the country can accelerate progress globally.

He said India’s success in getting more than 200 crore doses of Covid vaccine and reaching a 90-per cent vaccination rate was a “real demonstration” to the world of the kind of action that can be taken to contain the pandemic.

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The top executive of the Gates Foundation also hailed India’s leadership in the production of Covid vaccines and the country’s digital vaccination platform, CoWin, adding that it is a test case and a model for smartly using digital tools.

Suzman’s comments came on a day the foundation released its sixth annual “Goalkeepers” report that noted that nearly every indicator of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is off track at the halfway point for achieving those by 2030.

In 2015, the United Nations finalised a set of sustainable development goals that are focused on ending poverty around the world and ensuring a new prosperity for everyone. The goals are popularly known as SDGs.

“While there isn’t an SDG on Covid, India’s success in getting over two billion doses and reaching 90 per cent vaccination rate was a real demonstration to the world of the kind of action that can be taken,” Suzman said.

He also cited India’s leadership in manufacturing vaccines, including by the Serum Institute and Bharat Biotech, and said the foundation has been having longstanding partnerships with the two companies.

“I think in the context of India, which has already shown great global leadership in health and in the response to Covid directly, it is both an opportunity to continue the focus the government has been making on accelerating progress domestically on the SDGs, but also really supporting some broader global leadership, especially as India moves into chairing the G20 next year, about trying to advance some of these priorities globally,” Suzman said.

G-20 is one of the most powerful groupings globally and India will assume its presidency for a year from December 1, 2022 to November 30, 2023.

Suzman also listed the “dramatic progress” made by India and some other countries in various development parameters, including poverty reduction and slashing the child mortality rate.

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Talking about the knock-on effects of the pandemic, he referred to a broader set of interventions across health, education, financial access and other tools to deal with the challenges, and complimented India’s CoWin digital vaccination platform.

“For example, the CoWIN app that was used and building on the other system is a great global model that we think has potential, perhaps, through the G20, perhaps through other channels, to show how other countries, including in Africa, could take and develop their own interventions for, in this case, health,” he said.

Suzman said the foundation is actively working to try and build on the Indian model for development.

The Bill Melinda Gates Foundation CEO also highlighted India’s strength in the production of paddy, especially referring to “faster-growing” paddy that can adapt around climate conditions.

“India can continue its own development trajectory, because that makes a huge difference, given the size and importance of India to the global numbers, but then also take some of those lessons and models that have been developed in India over the last few years and share them with other countries to see if we can accelerate progress globally,” he said.

Suzman said the “Goalkeepers” report is a “real call” to action for the world as work on various development goals was significantly stalled as a result of the Covid pandemic.

He also talked about the adverse impact of the food security crisis “caused in part by the war in Ukraine, but more broadly by climate change”, noting that it is particularly affecting Sub-Saharan Africa and countries in Asia and Latin America.

“And so it is a call to action, saying we need to redouble our efforts to actually try and meet some of the key goals, the Sustainable Development Goals, and it is still possible to meet several of them by 2030, even if they are currently off track, such as the ones on reducing child mortality and other areas like malaria,” Suzman said.

Asked about the “Goalkeepers” report referencing India’s women-led self-help groups (SHGs), he said the foundation worked in the area in India for years and found that the SHGs are an incredibly effective mechanism for women empowerment.

He said the SHGs ensure access of resources to women and they are much more likely to invest the resources in their family and in their children, which leads automatically to better health outcomes, better nutrition and better access to education.

“It also often empowers women to take more entrepreneurial roles in the informal and formal labour force and getting better markets and benefits,” Suzman said.

“Goalkeepers” is the foundation’s campaign to accelerate progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (Global Goals).

By sharing stories and data behind the global goals through an annual report, the foundation says it hopes to inspire a new generation of leaders — goalkeepers who raise awareness of progress, hold their leaders accountable and drive action to achieve the global goals.

On September 25, 2015, at the UN headquarters in New York, 193 world leaders committed to the 17 SDGs.

These are a series of ambitious objectives and targets to achieve three extraordinary things by 2030 — end poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and fix climate change.