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Why I’m Going to India

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A Good Trip

Why I’m Going to India

To make real progress on the problems of the poorest, you need at least two ingredients: a deep understanding of the problems, and the technical ability to solve them.

In the United States, we have amazing technical capacity. We have the world’s top universities and great companies where researchers are working on new drugs and vaccines, new seeds, and other innovations. But we don’t have everyday experience with the problems of the poorest. We don’t see people living in extreme poverty next door or pass by them in a slum down the street.

On the other hand, countries where the poorest people live deal with these challenges every day. But many of those nations don’t have the same technical capacity to work on solutions that we have in the United States.

India is in an interesting position: It has both a deep understanding of the challenges and great capacity to help solve them. India’s cities are flush with highly educated people working in well-funded labs, as well as extremely poor communities like the slum in Uttar Pradesh that I visited last year. That makes the country an ideal place to understand both the problems and the solutions. This is one reason why I try to visit at least once a year, and why I’ll be spending a few days there later this month.

To see the impact India can have, just look at rotavirus. It’s a diarrheal disease that kills 400,000 children around the world, including more than 100,000 in India, every year. It causes a lot of sickness too: up to 1 million hospitalizations and several million visits to doctors. The government has been working with partners on a new vaccine for rotavirus, the first to be developed and manufactured exclusively in India. If licensed, it could save the lives of thousands of Indian children. On my trip I’ll be learning about the progress on this vaccine. India also played a big role in a groundbreaking study that recently gave us new insights into which diarrheal diseases cause most of the deaths, which I wrote about here. On this trip I’ll also discuss polio with government leaders and people from UNICEF, the National Polio Surveillance Project, and Rotary International. India has been polio-free since 2011, and we’ll be talking about how to keep pressing ahead toward eradicating the disease from the three countries (Nigeria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan) where it still exists.

I’m also looking forward to meeting Aamir Khan, the Bollywood star and activist. I want to hear about his work as a UNICEF ambassador for child nutrition. I also want to hear about his TV show, Satyamev Jayate (Truth Alone Prevails), which is shining a light on some critical issues facing India. And maybe, if I’m lucky, he’ll show me a few dance moves.

There’s a lot more on my plate. I want to say thanks in advance to everyone who’s making time to meet with me and making this trip happen. I hope to post some thoughts from the road, as well as a few photos of the people and places I visit. Stay tuned.

This post has been updated. It originally said 800,000 children die every year from rotavirus; the correct number is 400,000.

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