Bill Gates calls for Korea’s greater role in fight against global health crisis | Inquirer News

Bill Gates calls for Korea’s greater role in fight against global health crisis

/ 04:45 PM August 16, 2022
Bill Gates, the co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, speaks at the National Assembly

Bill Gates, the co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, speaks at the National Assembly on Tuesday morning. (Yonhap via The Korea Herald/Asia News Network)

SEOUL — Bill Gates on Tuesday called for South Korea to assume a larger role in tackling global health threats such as the pandemic in partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which he co-chairs.

In the afternoon, Gates was scheduled to meet President Yoon Suk-yeol, according to the presidential office, over which the two will discuss “steps for achieving health justice.” The contents of the meeting were not available at the time of writing.

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Over his stay the Microsoft co-founder is also speculated to meet with some corporate leaders, including recently pardoned Samsung heir Lee Jae-yong, and SK Group chief Chey Tae-won, which the companies declined to confirm.

In an address to the National Assembly, Gates said his three-day visit here was intended to outline his foundation and the South Korean government’s joint work on global health security, improvements in health equity and the continued fight against infectious diseases.

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“This is a crisis moment in global health. This is also a fantastic time for our foundation to strengthen the partnership with Korea providing great ideas for new tools and more resources help those most in need,” he said.

Gates said in the collaborative efforts to shore up global health security, South Korea had a potential to make a significant impact.

“Over the last 70 years with a little bit of help from foreign aid donors and incredible hard work and creativity, you transformed your postwar economy into a powerhouse in a very short time,” he said. “Now Korea gives aids to help dozens of countries to start the same journey of progress.”

He said that as South Korea increases that generosity “to match (its) economic success — the 10th-largest economy — (the country) will be able to have an incredible impact.”

The past experience with COVID-19 highlighted the interconnected nature of public health emergencies, he said.

“A single infection anywhere in the world without the right capabilities can spread to the entire world,” he said.

In face of the pandemic, multilateral health initiatives have been “by far the most impactful,” he said, two of the most important among them being the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations or CEPI and Gavi, the vaccine alliance.

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“CEPI helped developed the COVID-19 vaccines that have allowed the pandemic to come under control,” he said. It was also working with South Korean companies to come up with new tools such as a “vaccine that will be very broad and cover all coronaviruses.”

Over the last two years Gavi “delivered over a billion COVID-19 vaccines,” he said, saving “tens of millions of lives” for “very, very little money.”

Gates went on, “We can continue to radically improve global health and eradicate diseases like polio, measles, malaria and improve the lives of all humans. It’s the right thing to and the smart thing to do, and I look forward to doing it in partnership (with South Korea).”

National Assembly Speaker Kim Jin-pyo, in an address, noted Gates and his foundation’s “dedication and commitment that enabled the vaccines to become available in less than a year since COVID-19 emerged.”

“Without these vaccines, we might have suffered a lot more deaths globally than we already had,” he said.

The parliament speaker then thanked Gates for supporting the development of a South Korean COVID-19 vaccine with a grant from his foundation and the foundation-backed CEPI.

He added that he hoped the partnership between the South Korean government and the Gates Foundation to counter threats of pandemics would lead to the country’s biotechnology industry flourishing.

Kim said South Korea has worked with Gates for a shared goal of global health security over the years.

The South Korean government and the Gates Foundation jointly established the Research Investment for Global Health Technology Fund in 2018, with the aim of assisting development of essential global health technologies, for instance.

Prior to the address Kim spoke with Gates for about 40 minutes in a closed-door meeting on public health partnerships among other agenda items.

At the meeting, also present were Lee Kwang-jae, secretary-general of the parliament, Reps. Kwon Seong-dong and Park Hong-keun, floor leaders of the ruling and main opposition parties, and members of the parliamentary committees for health and budget.

According to Kim’s office, the speaker was first to extend an invitation to Gates to the National Assembly via a June visit by Trevor Mundel, the Gates Foundation president of global health.

He also invited Gates to the World Bio Summit, hosted by South Korea together with the World Health Organization, slated for October and the Global Health Security Agenda ministerial meeting taking place in November.

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TAGS: Bill Gates, Health, South korea
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