Q) What steps can India take to expedite its exit from the pandemic which is resurging in some parts of the country?
India has done an incredible job in controlling the pandemic so far, and as we begin the vaccination campaign, it is imperative that India does not lose sight of its testing and tracing commitments. The vaccination strategy should continue in tandem with targeted testing and tracing to reduce the impact and spread of the virus.
India aims to inoculate 300 million people by the summer, and even though it may seem like a lofty target, it can be achieved through a whole of society approach, with collaboration and cooperation among various stakeholders such as the government, industry players, NGOs, etc. The country could benefit from high-impact collaboration for engineering innovation, integrating storage, logistics, and distribution capacities, deploying human capital for inoculating, managing, and tracking the programme, and constructing technology infrastructure and services for seamless implementation of the vaccination programme. In addition, external stakeholders can also work with the government to disseminate accurate information in order to build public confidence in the vaccines.
Q) In the coming months, what should be India’s healthcare priorities to build future pandemic resilience?
India needs to improve its public health infrastructure considerably, with equity as its underlying principle, to respond to future pandemics more aggressively. The government should take a lead in prioritizing data-driven health programmes for achieving desirable health outcomes.
The Foundation’s Precision Public Health Initiative in particular focuses on this, with the aim of preventing deaths, disability, and serious illness among vulnerable communities through predictive analysis. The public health Initiative can serve as a benchmark to create and share knowledge tools that will help in decision making to tackle future health challenges. We are already supporting India’s journey to self-sufficiency in Covid-19 diagnostics and enabling the development of a nation-wide strategy for smart testing and tracing. We are also supporting efforts in new technologies to accelerate preparedness against future pandemics response capabilities.
Even before the advent of the pandemic, we have been focusing on early field-building efforts to create a holistic and conducive ecosystem for leveraging AI towards social and developmental outcomes. We have partnered with the University of Chicago’s social impact programme called the International Innovation Corps to help policymakers think through the integration of AI into public health. Besides creating an AI culture and governance platform, we also created a body of knowledge and research to define a roadmap for AI integration into health for India as well as other developing economies.
Q) According to RF, which sectors require renewed focus and can re-imagine the country's future?
India should use transformative innovation and partnership to apply a science-based and expert collaboration approach to focus on areas that have the potential to lift millions out of poverty. India should identify and scale public-private partnerships and mobilize private capital for an equitable pathway to prosperity. India is far off its sustainable development goals (SDGs) commitments, and to scale up, and reach those targets India needs to heavily invest in energy, food, health, and climate.
Data and data science are increasingly reshaping nearly every aspect of our lives, including health, food, energy. However, not everyone is benefitting equitably.
Q) How has The Rockefeller Foundation (RF) promoted innovation over the past year to bridge health inequity?
The Rockefeller Foundation forged several meaningful partnerships to drive focused efforts for scaling up testing by stimulating the innovation landscape, building relationships with government stakeholders at the State level and keeping ears firmly rooted to ground realities, and reviewing emerging evidence.
First, we partnered with the Office of the Principal Scientific Advisor to GOI (PSA) and gave two new grants to scale up Covid-19 testing in India. Working with The Center for Cellular and Molecular Platforms and PATH, the Foundation is supporting domestic manufacturing of critical testing materials and the deployment of scalable testing programs, essential to mitigating the virus’s spread. Both grants will advance efforts to leverage data and technology to strengthen pandemic surveillance and response. These commitments are part of a broader effort to accelerate equitable access to testing technology globally as a key lever to contain the spread of Covid-19 and reduce test positivity rate. These grants have unlocked a latent scientific capacity that will ensure the long-term sustainability of supply chains for molecular diagnostics that will serve ongoing epidemics like TB and future outbreaks.
At the beginning of the pandemic, there were just 2 domestic producers, however, by November, it had increased to 22, and the domestic kit production increased from 250K per day to 550K per day. It is essential that while making investments in mitigating the pandemic, we do not forget the need to look beyond the pandemic as well, and how our investments and interventions can strengthen health systems for the future.
We are also pioneering AI integration into healthcare with our US $100 million Precision Public Health Initiative, which focuses on using predictive analytics to prevent rather than respond to health threats and leverage big data on the social determinants of health, starting with women and children’s health. Our aim is to empower the frontlines of healthcare, especially community health workers using the power of data. Under this work, we have partnered with UNICEF to support state governments in using statistical models for forecasting Covid-19 outbreak and with Piramal Swasthya to leverage digital technology to improve health outcomes in 25 Aspirational Districts.
In alignment with RF’s Covid-19 response strategy, our partnership with AVPN is a collaborative effort to engage with key national and sub-national government offices to improve and increase awareness of early testing and Covid-19 appropriate behaviour. We have been running a two-month communication campaign in two states in India- Gujarat, and Telangana, where a varied range of multi-media creatives are being used to inform and nudge public behavior towards Covid-19.
Q) What are the India specific plans RF is mulling over or participating in?
The Rockefeller Foundation is committed to supporting India’s development needs in various sectors and has been a partner in India’s development journey since 1913 when we gave our first-ever grant to the All-India School of Hygiene and Public Health in Calcutta in areas of Public Health and medical education. Outside of the US, India is the largest country where the foundation is working. We find ourselves at a pivotal moment globally where rapid advancements in science and technology offer millions of people the means to rise out of poverty.
Over the next year, the Foundation is looking to sustain the momentum built over the course of last year by investing in innovative solutions that are pivotal to transforming the health and lives of all people. The Foundation is keen on engaging with the government to support the vaccine distribution plan through meaningful consultations and mentorship, mobilization of networks, and critical financing to disrupt vicious cycles of poverty and effect high-level impact. The Foundation intends to develop and fund a global health platform to help detect, prevent, and contain future pandemics. Concurrently, the Foundation will continue to steer social impact collaborations and scalable systems to end energy poverty and nourish people globally, through ingenuity and industry. The Covid-19 pandemic is a once-in-a-lifetime crisis that requires urgent and dramatic action. That means using all the tools at our disposal, including issuing our first-ever charitable bond, to help end the pandemic and increase equitable access to care in the long-term.
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