Nachiket Mor, Country Director, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), India, talks to Joe C. Mathew about the foundation's work in India.
Global funds are often criticised for pushing new vaccines that are perhaps non-essential. What's your approach?
Vaccines that are globally available have been fully approved for use in India and are already available in the private sector. So, there is no question of pushing medicines that are not already locally available. The real debate is about the feasibility of making them available free of cost. The government, along with eminent scientists and administrators, has a well-structured process for making these decisions. Our support, provided only at the government's request, is designed to ensure that the best of data and analysis are made available to them.
The National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI) seems to be distancing itself from BMGF...
The Mavalankar Committee had recommended the formation of a technical support unit for immunisation to support the ministry and the NTAGI. The government entrusted the Public Health Foundation of India to set this up. When they, in turn, approached us for financial support, we gave them a $6.9-million grant for three-and-a-half years to set up the Immunization Technical Support Unit (ITSU) at the request of the government. We hope that over time larger components of it will be funded entirely by the ministry, just like the NTAGI's Secretariat, earlier supported by the ITSU, will now be moved to the National Institute of Health and Family Welfare under the health ministry.
Are there any strings attached to the support you give?
In all our programmes, our strong desire is to act as a catalyst and not an operator. We examine the issue of local context and need, sustainability, and longer term domestic funding and government ownership carefully before we make our grants.
International foundations are criticised because their influence is disproportionate to the money they contribute...
That is a deeply disrespectful statement to us as Indians. It is as if we still have the colonial mentality and can be easily made to do whatever is being told to us. Indians have the full capacity to decide what is in our best interests and to accept or reject advice. Outsiders are welcome to help, but there is no dependency on any of them.