COVID-19 has set back progress on SDGs, Gates Foundation report finds

COVID-19 has set back progress on SDGs, Gates Foundation report finds

Social and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have derailed progress toward achieving the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals, a report from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation finds.

Now in its fourth edition, the 2020 Goalkeepers Report: COVID-19: A Global Perspective found that as a result of the global health emergency — which quickly morphed into intertwined economic, food, housing, and political crises — progress toward the SDGs has been set back on nearly all of the eighteen indicators tracked by the study. Based on data collected through June/July, vaccine coverage — a proxy measure for how health systems are functioning — has fallen to levels last seen in the 1990s, reversing twenty-five years of gains in just twenty-five weeks. The report also found that improvements in numerous health-related indicators — including stunting; maternal, child, and neonatal mortality; new cases of HIV, malaria, and tuberculosis; and access to family planning — are projected to plateau or decline in the coming year. 

The report also highlights how the pandemic has disproportionately impacted the poor, women, and racial/ethnic minority communities and exacerbated existing inequalities. The number of people living in extreme poverty in 2020, for example, increased for the first time in twenty years, up some thirty-seven million, or 7.1 percent. And while the percentage of the global population living in extreme poverty fell from more than 35 percent in 1990 to 6.7 percent in 2019, it is projected, in a best-case scenario, to fall to just 5.7 percent by 2030 — or, in a worst-case scenario, rise to 7.5 percent.

To contain the pandemic and effectively address its many impacts, the Gateses are urging governments and other stakeholders to mount a multinational response focused on the development of diagnostics, vaccines, and treatments; the manufacture of vaccine doses as soon as an effective vaccine becomes available; and the equitable delivery of any and all proven vaccines based on need rather than ability to pay. According to modeling done by Northeastern University's Laboratory for the Modeling of Biological and Socio-technical Systems, distributing the first two billion doses of an 80 percent effective vaccine to fifty high-income countries would reduce the number of COVID-19 deaths by 33 percent, whereas distributing doses to all countries in proportion to their population would reduce the number of deaths by 61 percent.

"There is no such thing as a national solution to a global crisis," the Gateses write. "All countries must work together to end the pandemic and begin rebuilding economies. The longer it takes us to realize that, the longer it will take (and the more it will cost) to get back on our feet."

"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. 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."

(Photo credit: ©Gates Foundation/Nana Kofi Acquah)