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New Delhi, Dec. 6

IT WAS the philanthropist in software czar Mr Bill Gates that was at the forefront, on the first day of his visit to India.

The Chairman of Microsoft and co-founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation reserved talking about software and IT at length for Day Two, except for an early morning meeting with the Communications and IT Minister, Mr Dayanidhi Maran, at his residence.

In the meeting that lasted for about 20 minutes, they discussed the progress made on the areas of co-operation identified during the Minister's visit to Seattle in September. In Seattle, both sides had agreed to cooperate on e-governance and IT literacy among other areas.

During the day, Mr Gates also spent time at Mira Bagh, a slum in the Capital. He met the Health Minister, Dr A. Ramadoss, to discuss India's vaccine development and immunisation programmes and wrapped up the day meeting partners working with the foundation.

Describing his meeting with Dr Ramadoss as "great", Mr Gates and wife Ms Melinda Gates extended their support to various vaccine development programmes. Speaking to newspersons after the meeting, the Health Minister said, "Our discussion centred around vaccines and disease prevention concepts. The foundation is interested in vaccines for tuberculosis, malaria, HIV vaccines and microbicide."

The Gates Foundation is involved with the Global Alliance for Vaccines Immunisation and the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative and will support, directly or indirectly, research in vaccines. "The support could be extended even to the private sector. The foundation is in touch with Serum Institute, Bharat Biotech and Shantha Biotech," said Dr Ramadoss.

He said there are no drugs available for treatment of kala azar and that the foundation was supporting research of an injectible form of paramomycin. This drug has entered the third phase of clinical trials.

Issues about neo-natal mortality were also discussed; the foundation is supporting neo-natal forum on technology at the rural level. Mr Gates also talked about Avahan, which is providing targeted intervention in the six States where HIV/AIDS is highly prevalent. "There is need for more co-ordination between the Government and Avahan to avoid duplication of activities," said Dr Ramadoss.

The Health Ministry has solicited help from the Gates Foundation in setting up a public health school, akin to the IITs and the IIMs. Currently, there are no technically qualified people working in public health, unlike the West where universities such as Harvard, MIT and Johns Hopkins Institute offer such modules.

While one institute will be in the North, the other one will be in South India. An investment of at least Rs 100 crore per institute is envisaged. McKinsey is co-ordinating the proposed project.

Last week, the Gates Foundation announced grants totalling $84.3 million to support newborn health programmes in 18 countries including India. The foundation has also committed $200 million to support Avahan, a national HIV/AIDS prevention initiative in India.

This is Mr Gates' fourth visit to India. He had earlier visited India in 1997, 2000 and 2002. He will spend the first two days of his India trip in New Delhi, and then move to Chennai and Bangalore.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated December 7, 2005)
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