The Indian government will maintain ties with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) and will continue to get grants from the organisation for its health and immunisation projects, even after the project deadline, which expires at the end of this month. BMGF has set the elimination of malaria, tuberculosis, HIV, malnutrition, preventable deaths and inequities in health as its priorities for 2017.
BMGF has offered a grant to the Public Health Foundation of India for techno-managerial support through an Immunization Technical Support Unit (ITSU), which is managed by the health ministry and comes to an end in February 2017. At present government of India and BMFG are discussing future arrangements, and sources close to the development said that government is most likely continue with technical support for the health and immunisation programme from the Gates Foundation. Earlier, there were reports of the government ending the ties as the foundation works with some US-based private pharma companies, but that speculation has now come to rest.
Over the past three and half years, the foundation has provided a little under $7 million in grants to PHFI as technical assistance under the project.
Officials from the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare said that, "As far as technical support by ITSU is concerned, it is functioning till February 28, 2017 and the project will continue to support the immunization programme in techno-managerial capacity beyond this date. The contours of this support are being finalised with Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) and BMGF."
For BMGF, the investment in India is more than in any other country outside the US. Archna Vyas, India Country Lead, Communications, for the foundation said, "The foundation's philosophy is to provide time-limited support to government programmes, including carefully structured transitions, so that critical experiential knowledge and capabilities stay within the (Indian) government system when our support winds down,"
Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (Gavi), in which BMGF is a large fund provider, recently announced a partnership with the government to accelerate access to modern, highly-efficacious vaccines to support India's immunisation programme. Under this partnership, Gavi provides up to $500 million between 2016 and 2021. Beyond 2021, India will no longer be eligible for Gavi funds, and the immunisation programme will be funded and managed by the Government.
At the request of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare -- and upon the recommendation of the government-appointed Mavalankar Committee -- the foundation has provided a grant to the Public Health Foundation of India for techno-managerial support through an Immunization Technical Support Unit (ITSU).
Vyas further said, "The grant comes to an end this month and we are in advanced stages of discussion with the Ministry on the contours of the next phase of our continued technical support."
In India, the foundation works with many organisations, across NGOs, private and public sector to support government's priorities on immunisation.
Working in collaboration with Department of Biotechnology (DBT) and Bharat Biotech, it supported development of indigenously produced Rotavirus vaccine useful to cure severe acute gastroenteritis (vomiting and severe diarrhea) among children. Vaccine prices could be brought down in India with the support of the BMGF.
A spokesperson for the foundation explained, "We are also working with the Serum Institute of India Pvt Ltd, which is now the world's largest vaccine manufacturer by number of doses produced. The foundation supported through partnership between PATH, WHO, the Serum Institute and the African government to develop an affordable vaccine to prevent meningitis A, the largest epidemic in Africa which had 250,000 cases and 25,000 deaths in the 1990s."
"The foundation believes vaccines save millions of lives each year and are the most cost-effective health interventions. Since price is a critical element in launch and sustainability of any vaccine, to take away uncertainty of demand and high investment involved in development and manufacturing, we work with private industry on innovative solutions to ensure that vaccines are developed at lowest possible cost. Our work and relationship with industry and government ensures that vaccines otherwise not produced for or distributed to the world's poorest get to them," Vyas said.
At present most pharma companies are focusing research and development in diabetes, cancer and lifestyle disease drugs, which are costlier and profitable. As a result, several life-saving medicines for diseases such as Pneumonia, TB and measles find lesser focus. It is in this area that the Foundation supports the Government's initiative to make affordable, safe and approved vaccines available in the remotest locations for children.