Gates eyes partnership with South Korea over global health

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Bill Gates on Tuesday called for South Korea to become more involved in international efforts to prevent infectious diseases like COVID-19 as he stressed the need for the world to be better prepared for the next pandemic.

Representing the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Gates signed a memorandum of understanding with South Korea’s foreign and health ministries pledging further partnerships in projects aimed at improving public health tools in the developing world and advancing vaccines and treatments for infectious diseases.

Seoul also promised stronger support for key projects backed by the Gates foundation, including the Global Fund, which focuses on HIV, tuberculosis and malaria, and the non-profit groups CEPI and GAVI, which along with the World Health Organization co-lead the COVAX distribution program that distributes COVID-19 vaccines to lower-income nations.

Speaking to South Korean lawmakers in Seoul, Gates called for stronger international cooperation, including efforts to develop vaccines that would be effective for a broader range of coronaviruses, to navigate what he described as a “crisis moment” in global health.

He noted South Korea’s strength in public health tools, research and vaccine manufacturing and praised the country’s pledge to donate $200 million to COVAX.

“There’s a lot we need to do together –- we need to reach deep, we need to build more partnership, we need to encourage the scientists,” Gates said in his speech at the National Assembly. “But I am confident that with these steps we can continue to radically improve global health, to cut the number of children dying in half again, to eradicate diseases like polio, measles and malaria, and improve the lives of all humans.”

Gates later met South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, who described government plans to promote the country’s bio-health industry and expressed a willingness to further cooperate with the Gates foundation to “improve the health of global citizens.”

Gates said South Korea has been a “good partner” in his foundation’s health projects, including development of more accessible COVID-19 vaccines and work on HIV, malaria and tuberculosis.

“We hope we can do more together,” Gates said, according to Yoon’s office.

Gates also met leaders of the SK business group to discuss cooperation on health projects. SK’s pharmaceutical arm, SK Bioscience, produces COVID-19 vaccines and has received funds from the Gates foundation to develop nasal sprays designed to help prevent coronavirus infections.

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