Gates Foundation co-chair Bill Gates told the FT that the foundation would give its "total attention" to containing the pandemic, which he fears will cost the global economy "tens of trillions of dollars." While the foundation has announced more than $250 million in support of COVID-19 response efforts to date, Gates said its actual commitment of manpower and expertise to the public health crisis has been much greater.
"We've taken an organization that was focused on HIV and malaria and polio eradication and almost entirely shifted it to work on this," said Gates. "This has the foundation's total attention. Even our non-health-related work, like higher education and K-12 [schools], is completely switched around to look at how you facilitate online learning."
Gates told the FT that the foundation's pivot to the novel coronavirus could come at the expense of its other global health programs; clinical trials for a promising new AIDS drug and measles vaccinations and polio eradication campaigns, for example, are likely to suffer as a result of the focus on COVID-19. "This emergency has distracted a lot of critical work in many, many areas," he added. "Fewer people [being] able to show up for routine immunization, or supply chains for immunization not working well — that's hundreds of thousands of deaths right there. If we can't keep getting malaria treatments out effectively, that's a huge rebound in malaria."
Last week, the Gates Foundation co-hosted a virtual World Health Organization event to launch the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, a global collaboration aimed at accelerating the development, production of, and equitable access to new vaccines, diagnostics, and treatments for COVID-19, which has resulted in more than two hundred thousand deaths worldwide. Partners in the effort, including the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, UNITAID, Wellcome, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent, the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers, the Developing Countries Vaccine Manufacturers' Network and the International Generic and Biosimilar Medicines Association, have committed to work together to harmonize and accelerate processes to ensure that products deemed safe and effective are available to all who need them, while global health officials are calling on donors to provide the necessary resources at a pledging conference next week where it is hoped $8 billion will be raised for the effort.
"Our shared commitment is to ensure all people have access to all the tools to prevent, detect, treat, and defeat COVID-19," said WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. "No country and no organization can do this alone. The Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator brings together the combined power of several organizations to work with speed and scale."
"WHO is clearly very, very important and should actually get extra support to perform their role during this epidemic," Gates told the FT.
(Image credit: Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations)