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Bill Gates implores Korea to step up to global health plate

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President Yoon Suk-yeol, right, shakes hands with Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, at the presidential office in Yongsan District, central Seoul, on Tuesday afternoon. [JOINT PRESS CORPS]
President Yoon Suk-yeol, right, shakes hands with Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, at the presidential office in Yongsan District, central Seoul, on Tuesday afternoon. [JOINT PRESS CORPS]

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates asked Korea to play a leadership role in combatting infectious diseases like Covid-19 in a speech to the National Assembly in Seoul Tuesday.  
 
“We have a job to do,” Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, told lawmakers. “We need to end this pandemic and prevent it from happening again.”  
 
Gates said there has been a great success in improving global health care over the past century. The Covid-19 pandemic showed the work that still needs to be done.     

“Global partners have shown creativity and generosity to keep the backsliding to a minimum,” he said. “Korea’s poised to be a leader in this work.”  

Gates continued, “You also have particular strengths, incredible vaccine manufacturing, incredible diagnostic manufacturing, R&D capabilities, diagnostic capabilities.”

He praised Korea’s $200 million pledge to the Covax Facility, the World Health Organization-led global vaccine-sharing mechanism. “It’s been fantastic to see the step up, the commitment to act.”

Gates said Korea has become an inspiration to other countries because of its history of overcoming war and achieving rapid economic growth. 

“Korea understands this very well, because over the last 70 years, with a little bit of help from foreign aid donors, and incredibly hard work and creativity, you transformed your post-war economy into a powerhouse in a very short time,” said Gates. “Now governments look to Korea for ideas for how to change the future of their people, and now Korea gives aid to help dozens of countries to start the same journey of progress.”  

He continued, “As you increase that generosity to match your economic success, the 10th largest economy, you’ll be able to have an incredible impact,” including through partnerships with multilateral global health organizations and foundations.  

“We’re all connected,” Gates stressed, pointing out that infectious diseases know no borders.

“This is a crisis moment for global health, so this is also a fantastic time for our foundation to strengthen the partnership with Korea, providing great ideas for new tools and more resources to help those most in need.” 

He said he visited Korea to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Korean government to work together on global health security, improvements in health equity, and continue efforts to fight infectious diseases in all countries.  

“I am confident that with these steps, we can continue to radically improve global health,” he said, and “improve the lives of all humans.”

He continued, “It’s the right thing to do, and I look forward to doing it in partnership” with Korea.  

Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft, gives a speech on international cooperation on infectious diseases at the National Assembly in Yeouido, western Seoul, on Tuesday. [YONHAP]
Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft, gives a speech on international cooperation on infectious diseases at the National Assembly in Yeouido, western Seoul, on Tuesday. [YONHAP]

Gates arrived in Seoul Monday for a three-day trip on the invitation of National Assembly Speaker Kim Jin-pyo, his first visit to the country in nine years.  

Ahead of his speech Tuesday morning, Kim and Gates, accompanied by members of his foundation and U.S. Ambassador Philip Goldberg, held a 40-minute meeting, mainly discussing health cooperation issues in the medical field.  

“I am grateful to you all for your efforts toward overcoming the global health crisis and cooperation,” Kim said. “As the saying goes, ‘No one is safe until everyone is safe.'” 

Kim stressed that “international health solidarity and cooperation for a joint response to Covid-19 is a critical issue that the survival of our humanity depends on.”

Korean lawmakers took part in the meeting, including People Power Party (PPP) floor leader Kweon Seong-dong and Democratic Party (DP) floor leader Park Hong-keun.

Later Tuesday, President Yoon Suk-yeol met with Gates at the Yongsan presidential office in central Seoul.  

Yoon told Gates that Korea approved SK Bioscience’s domestically developed Covid-19 vaccine in June and supports efforts to prevent infectious diseases in developing countries.

“On behalf of the Korean government, I would like to have a fruitful cooperative relationship with your foundation so that Korea can continue to grow our high-quality bio health technology and contribute to the improvement of the health of global citizens,” said Yoon.  

“There’s so much capability in Korea,” replied Gates. “In my first career, I had a chance to be here many times working with Samsung, LG, and many of the great Korean companies. And, I feel very lucky that in my new job, my full-time new job since 2008, I also get to have close collaborations here in Korea.”

He added, “Korea’s been a good partner and we hope we can do more together.”

Gates said that Korea’s universities, non-profit organizations, and companies have “great new capabilities” and are a strong match with the goals of the Gates Foundation.  

Gates was also expected to meet with Korean business executives during his visit.  

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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