The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation yesterday launched its fourth annual Goalkeepers Report, featuring new data showing how the ripple effects of COVID-19 have stopped 20 years of progress toward the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (Global Goals).
The report provides the most contemporary global data set for how the pandemic is affecting progress toward the Global Goals, showing that, by nearly every indicator, the world has regressed.
Africa has made tremendous improvements in poverty reduction with a 28% decrease in the number of people living in extreme poverty since 1990. But at the end of 2020, 13 million Africans are expected to fall below the poverty line in the best-case scenario, and 50 million at the worst. We could see double the number of malaria deaths this year compared to 2018, and 80 million children under the age of one worldwide may be at risk from preventable diseases.
In addition, the economic damage being caused by continent’s first recession in 25 years is reinforcing inequalities. Women and other vulnerable groups are suffering disproportionally, those in low-income countries are struggling with food and school closures are unfairly disadvantaging rural children.
Despite tremendous constraints, African countries are innovating to meet the challenge, and there is much the world can learn from the continent’s response. The government is deploying mobile testing units in South Africa, the private sector is raising money to bolster resources in Nigeria, and new and improved cash transfers are reaching millions in West Africa. In Senegal, scientists are developing cutting-edge, low cost ventilators, and public-private partnerships are bringing internet connectivity to rural and remote communities in Kenya.
African Union Special Envoy, Strive Masiyiwa, in collaboration with The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, launched the African Medical Supplies Platform in June. Its purpose is to ensure that countries on the continent have access to affordable, high-quality, lifesaving equipment and supplies, many of which are manufactured in Africa. Bill and Melinda Gates believe COVID-19 is a true test for the global community.
“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. “This is a shared global crisis that demands a shared global response.”
In the report, which Bill and Melinda Gates 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. There are currently several viable paths to help achieve an equitable outcome, including the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, the most serious collaborative effort to end the pandemic, which brings together proven organizations like Gavi and the Global Fund.
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, 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.
All people deserve the chance to live a healthy and productive life and while progress in Africa is possible, it is not inevitable. An equitable outcome is needed to end the virus and ensure that reversals in development do not become permanent,” said Cheikh Oumar Seydi, Africa Director for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “We need strong global collaboration with leaders in government and the private sector to ensure that everyone can access safe, effective coronavirus treatment, leaving no one behind.”
The International Monetary Fund projects that, despite the US$18 trillion already spent to stimulate economies around the world, the global economy will lose US$12 trillion or more by the end of 2021. There are inherent limits to what low- and middle-income countries can do to backstop their economies, regardless of how effectively those economies have been managed. While high-income countries have mobilized 22% of GDP in emergency spending, this is compared to just 3% in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Bill and Melinda Gates began learning about and donating money to public health more than 20 years ago, after reading a story about how hundreds of thousands of children living in poverty were dying of diarrhea, something that was easily treatable in the United States. Today, because of global coordination and commitment, 4.5 million fewer children are dying each year from preventable diseases compared to 2000.