The Co-chair, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Mr Bill Gates, has urged the Federal Government to improve investment in equitable solutions and in the people who are working on them.
He said this during the Pan-African Youth Innovation Forum on Wednesday in Lagos, as part of activities for his visit to Nigeria.
The Forum had the theme: “Advancing Africa: Unleashing the Power of Youth in Science and Innovation.”
Gates said that Nigeria was full of talented people with a lot of potential, but noted that it could be hard to fulfill that potential if they don’t have access to the most basic building blocks of life.
“It may not surprise you that Nigeria’s state and federal governments only spend the equivalent of $10 on health per person each year, compared to $31 in sub-Saharan Africa as a whole.
“Leaders need to make a much bigger financial commitment, focused most of all on improving primary health systems.
“Making sure clinics are well-staffed and supplied, making sure children get the vaccines they need—all of this is absolutely essential to improving health and opportunity and unlocking all of Nigeria’s potential,” he said.
Gates said that he would speak with the government about increasing commitments to agriculture and digital financial systems.
According to him, Nigerian youths have shown how passionate they are about progress, but they need to encourage their leaders to follow through on these commitments.
“The last time I visited Nigeria in 2018, I spoke to government leaders about your country’s potential for growth.
“This time, I wanted to speak also with you: Nigeria’s next generation of innovators.
“Ever since I was a teenager, writing computer code on a terminal at my high school, and later at Microsoft, I have loved the feeling of innovating to make something a little better for people—or a lot better.
“I’m sure you know this feeling too.
“There’s going to be a lot of opportunity for you to continue to make a difference in the world, because of the unprecedented potential of new technologies.
“However, Nigerians are still facing many of the challenges I talked about five years ago—and you have to contend with economic instability and security threats.
“I have a lot of faith that your generation will persevere and improve lives throughout Nigeria and beyond,” he said.
Gates said that talented youths are a powerful asset to making the world a better place.
He said that Nigeria’s huge youth population represented a lot of potential skills and passion to solve big problems.
“Yesterday, I met some impressive Nigerians whom the Gates Foundation has been partnering with for years.
“These scientists are improving seeds, fertiliser, and biopesticides so farmers can thrive in the face of climate change and grow crops free of toxins.
“And I met with a researcher scaling up an effective way to reduce anemia in pregnant women,” he said.
Gates said that young people needed strong support system to thrive, starting with education.
He added that Nigeria had a strong foundation, with some of the best educational and research institutions across the continent.
He stressed the need to bridge inequity in health, education, financial services and pay gaps to drive development.
Gates expressed his belief in the power of science and innovation to help people lead long, healthy lives, but noted that he had learnt that the benefits don’t automatically reach everyone.
“To do that, the people creating new breakthroughs, funding them, and getting them into the world all need to prioritise equity,” he said.
The philanthropist said that there are many exciting innovations in the global pipeline that would improve lives here in Nigeria.
“They’re going to prevent infectious diseases, provide life-saving interventions for mothers and babies; make food more nutritious, and give women more convenient contraception options.
“Down the road, Artificial Intelligence (AI) will be applied in ways that will bring quality health care and education to more people,” he said.
Gates expressed excitement at the potential AI had to save and improve lives, but, said that won’t happen if profit was the only motive.
“So, our foundation is thinking about what we can do to help AI develop in ways that improve the lives and well-being of everyone, not just the wealthiest people in a few rich countries.
“The foundation has issued a call for proposals or what we call a “Grand Challenge” for innovative, safe uses of large language models.
“We received 1,300 proposals, and half of them were from Africa. The winners will be announced in Senegal in October.
“We hope what emerges will help build an evidence base for advancing equitable outcomes in health and development everywhere in the world,” he said.