The COVID-19 pandemic is a true test for the global community that demands a shared global response, said Bill and Melinda Gates in their co-chaired foundation’s annual Goalkeepers Report published Monday.
In the report, which they co-author every year, they call on the world to collaborate on the development of diagnostics, vaccines, and treatment; manufacture tests and doses as quickly as possible; and deliver these tools equitably based on need rather than the ability to pay.
The report says new data show how the ripple effects of COVID-19 have stopped 20 years of progress toward the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (Global Goals).
According to the report, by nearly every indicator, the world has regressed. “Because of COVID-19, extreme poverty has increased by 7 percent. Vaccine coverage, a good proxy measure for how health systems are functioning, is dropping to levels last seen in the 1990s, setting the world back about 25 years in 25 weeks.”
It says the economic damage from COVID-19 is reinforcing inequalities. The pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on women, racial and ethnic minority communities, and people living in extreme poverty. Around the world, women are facing an increased burden from rising demands in total unpaid care work and experiencing the majority of job losses.
Even in the United States, the report says, the percentage of Black and Latinx people who say they cannot pay their rent is twice the percentage of white people.
“The response to the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us some of the best of humanity: pathbreaking innovation, heroic acts by frontline workers, and ordinary people doing the best they can for their families, neighbors, and communities,” Bill and Melinda Gates write.
The report makes clear that no single country will be able to meet this challenge alone. Any attempts by one country to protect itself while neglecting others will only prolong the hardships caused by the pandemic. Developing and manufacturing vaccines will not end the pandemic quickly unless they are delivered equitably.
According to modeling from Northeastern University of the United States, if rich countries buy up the first 2 billion doses of vaccine instead of making sure they are distributed equitably, then almost twice as many people could die from COVID-19.
The International Monetary Fund projects that, despite the 18 trillion U.S. dollars already spent on stimulating economies around the world, the global economy will lose 12 trillion dollars or more by the end of 2021 — the biggest global GDP loss since the end of World War II.
In some countries, spending on emergency stimulus and social protection has prevented worse outcomes. But there are inherent limits to what low- and middle-income countries can do to safeguard their economies, regardless of how effectively those economies have been managed.
The report says despite these constraints, countries are innovating to meet the challenges. More candidates for vaccines and therapeutics are being developed faster than ever. Pandemic-focused innovations include contact tracing in Vietnam and pooled testing in Ghana, while new or improved digital cash transfer programs are reaching 1.1 billion people in 131 countries.
“One of the most troubling things about this pandemic is that by disrupting health systems and the global economy, it’s starting to erase the progress people have made toward living healthier, more productive lives,” said Melinda Gates. “Our report highlights actions the world can take to turn things around.”
She said researchers are very close to developing safe, effective coronavirus vaccines, but breakthrough science must be met by breakthrough generosity. “We need leaders in government and the pharmaceutical industry to ensure that everyone, regardless of where they live, can access these vaccines. And we’re hopeful that will happen.”