Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar was showered with praise by Bill Gates for an impressive performance of rapid vaccination for children in his state, with the philanthropist saying that 'people are hungry for visionary leaders' who deliver upon their promises.
'Inter-state jealousies' over social performance are contributing to increased focus on health, Gates said during a press conference in Geneva.
"I was struck by the chief minister's popularity," he said in his address to the 64th World Health Assembly, which is the governing body of the World Health Organisation.
"Nitish Kumar and Muhammad Pate (head of Nigeria's polio eradication programme) have demonstrated that the best leaders can overcome the worst circumstances," said Gates.
"People are hungry for visionary leaders who not only promise a better future, but deliver upon that promise," he added.
He urged health ministers to embark on rapid vaccination programme to reduce child mortality.
"Let us rededicate ourselves to the idea that no district will be below 80 per cent coverage," Gates emphasised at the annual meeting of WHA to set the priorities for the coming year.
India has one of the highest child and infant mortality rates in the world.
Despite a robust pharmaceutical industry and growing economic prosperity, India is yet to make a significant dent on its disease-burden, said health analysts.
Gates said nations must strive to 'make this the decade of vaccines,' underscoring the need for donor countries not to turn a deaf ear for making generous contributions towards 'vaccines and immunisation.'
The founder of Microsoft said pharmaceutical companies must manufacture affordable vaccines for poor countries, while WHO's 193 members must 'make vaccines a central focus of your health systems, to ensure that all your children have access to existing vaccines now -- and to new ones as they become available'.
He asked vaccine companies in the world to emulate 'the Serum Institute of India, led by Dr Cyrus Poonawalla,' for manufacturing the low-cost meningitis vaccine.
He said the Serum institute has become world's largest producer of the measles vaccines, and the pentavalent vaccine, suggesting that the Indian company is now manufacturing inexpensive 'diarrhoea and pneumonia vaccines.'
The Gates foundation has become the second largest donor to the WHO after the US.
The WHO, which is facing unprecedented financial deficit to the tune of $300 million, is now seeking funds from private and philanthropic outfits committed to improving global health, Margaret Chan, WHO's director general, told reporters.
She said there is no conflict of interests or lack of accountability for the funds received from private sources.
"WHO is a multilateral organisation and we have clear rules," she said, suggesting that it doesn't allow the companies to have any influence in its day-to-day decisions.