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02/11/2013

Bill Gates focuses on data and measurement in 2013 letter


Gates
Bill Gates, chairman of Microsoft, during an interview Jan. 30 in New York on the day he launches his "annual letter" from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. (AFP PHOTO/Stan HONDA/Getty Images)

In his fifth annual letter, Bill Gates argues the core reason for progress is commitment to setting goals and identifying the right measures to drive progress toward those.

He highlighted successes, including pre-natal healthcare in Ethiopia where clear goals led to success.

“In previous annual letters, I've focused a lot on the power of innovation to reduce hunger,
poverty, and disease,” he wrote in the letter. “But any innovation-whether it's a new vaccine or an improved seed-can't have an impact unless it reaches the people who will benefit from it. That's why in this year's letter I discuss how innovations in measurement are critical to finding new, effective ways to
deliver these tools and services to the clinics, family farms, and classrooms that need them.”

Embedded with photos, graphs and videos, the letter talked extensively about how measurement
matters.

On his first visit to that country in March 2012, Gates said he realized the challenge posed to health workers because rural areas are connected by rough roads. He saw few vehicles, even fewer bicycles.

Ethiopia found a successful model for achieving the goal from the southern Indian state of Kerala, which did it partly through the vast network of community health care posts. The workers provide most services by post but also visit homes of pregnant women.

“They ensure that each home has access to a bed net to protect the family from malaria, a pit toilet...”

Gates admitted that measurement is critical to progress in global health, it is tough to do well. “You have to measure accurately, as well as create an environment where problems can be discussed openly so you can effectively evaluate what's working and what's not.”

He said setting targets for immunization and other interventions do motivate health workers but it has a flip side: it can also encourage over-reporting to avoid problems with supervisors.

But innovative technology is still vital for improving measurement systems, said the Microsoft founder.

Gates has released a letter every year since 2009 covering all the action the Gates Foundation has taken and what it sees as the way forward in its quest to improve the health and lives of people in the developing world.

Raveena Aulakh is the Toronto Star’s environment reporter. She is intrigued by climate change and its impact, now and long-term. Follow her on Twitter @raveenaaulakh

 

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