I’ve never met anyone who knows how to have as much fun with condoms (in public, anyway) as Mechai Viravaidya.
I want to share a few impressions from my time in China. I just had a meeting with President Xi, in which we discussed the importance of addressing global health and development challenges, like health inequity and climate change, and how China can play a role in achieving progress for people everywhere.
As part of my work with the Gates Foundation, I’ve tried to visit China, India, countries in Africa and Europe, and Washington D.C. each year. On these trips, I’d talk to researchers, government leaders, advocates, and other experts who are working on inequities in health and development. I’d always learn a lot, returning inspired by what I saw and heard.
It’s great to be able to resume these regular visits. This was my first trip to China in four years, and immediately after this trip, I’m headed to West Africa for the first time in five years. And I went to India in March.
On each trip this year, I have a key message: Over the past two decades, the world made significant strides in reducing poverty and improving health outcomes, but COVID was a big setback and even reversed progress on some global goals like reducing poverty and fighting TB and malaria. Many African countries, for example, are particularly impacted by overlapping challenges, including the effects of climate change, high food prices, escalating poverty rates, surging infectious diseases, and significant debt pressures.
Even though the challenges facing many African countries are complex, I’m optimistic that innovation in health, agriculture, digital finance, and energy will help improve lives there. I’m looking forward to meeting leaders and young people helping to accelerate progress when I visit West Africa.
Solving these problems requires innovation—both new tools and new ways of doing things. China has eliminated diseases, including polio and malaria, within its borders, developed drugs like artemisinin that have saved millions of lives around the world from malaria, made great strides in poverty reduction, and has made significant investments in clean energy and climate adaptation. So I was looking forward to seeing what’s changed since my last visit four years ago.
One highlight was my visit to the Global Health Drug Discovery Institute, an organization our foundation helped establish six years ago in partnership with the Beijing Municipal Government and Tsinghua University. GHDDI represents a productive way for public and private partners to work together on discovering new medicines for diseases that disproportionately impact the world’s most vulnerable populations but have applications for the world. I spoke about the institute’s work on TB and malaria yesterday, and we also extended our partnership over the next five years.
I also got to visit the National Crop Genebank of China. This facility is a prominent crop research center and also serves as a long-term preservation storage space for seeds so that scientists around the world have access to important genetic data. During my visit, I met with agricultural scientists who are working with their counterparts worldwide, particularly in Africa, on new rice varieties that help farmers increase their productivity and minimize the need for fertilizers, pesticides, and irrigation.
The benefits of their work have reached millions of farming households across Asia and Africa. The continued investment in technology and innovation within the agricultural sector has played a significant role in the increase in agricultural productivity throughout China. What excites me even more is China’s commitment to share their expertise and innovative practices with low-income countries. By assisting farmers in adapting to climate change, increasing their income, and combating food crises, they are making a substantial contribution to global food security.
The genebank and GHDDI are just two examples of the promising work the foundation has seen in China in the more than 15 years we’ve been partnering here. And there will be more opportunities for China and others to step up later this year, including a summit on development financing in Paris, a meeting of the G20 in New Delhi, and the COP28 climate conference in Dubai.
I’m convinced that if the world works together to address climate change, health inequity, and food security we can make extraordinary progress. And I’m looking forward to exploring new opportunities for collaboration and innovation that will make a better future for everyone.