Gates, Rockefeller warn leaders of pandemic impact

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A big reason is that the disease disproportionately hit poor countries that did not have access to COVID vaccines. More than 80 percent of COVID vaccines have been administered to people in wealthy countries, according to the report. The entire continent of Africa, the report noted, has a population about 30 times that of California. But the number of people vaccinated was roughly the same through the first half of the year. The health crisis cast a shadow over many measures of well-being. During the pandemic, childhood immunizations over all dropped 7%. Health officials last year predicted it was going to be even worse, but the decline still represents 10 million children who have fallen behind immunization schedules. While men’s employment is expected to return to pre-pandemic levels this year, 13 million fewer women will have jobs than in 2019, according to the report.

The calls from philanthropy leaders for more action from wealthy countries comes as President Biden plans to call for a “COVID Summit” to coincide with the meeting, according to news reports. In an annual analysis of progress made toward development goals set by the United Nations on poverty, access to clean water, gender equality, and other indicators of well-being, the Gates Foundation found that the spread of the pandemic had significantly reversed progress made in recent years. “The lack of equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines is a public-health tragedy,” said Bill Gates, in statement accompanying the report. “We face the very real risk that in the future, wealthy countries and communities will begin treating COVID-19 as yet another disease of poverty. We can’t put the pandemic behind us until everyone, regardless of where they live, has access to vaccines.”

While the Gates Foundation has been one of the biggest philanthropic supporters in the fight against COVID, pouring $1.8 billion into a range of global health efforts to curb the spread of the disease, it has also attracted significant criticism. For much of the first year of the pandemic, it so staunchly defended the intellectual property rights of the pharmaceutical companies that developed the vaccines that experts say it slowed the delivery of vaccines to people in need. In May, the foundation seemed to reverse course and said it would back a “narrow waiver” of intellectual property rights to help get vaccines to poor countries. Writing on the foundation’s website, Mark Suzman, the CEO, wrote that “no barriers should stand in the way of equitable access to vaccines, including intellectual property.”

Rockefeller’s president, Rajiv Shah, has called for a “COVID Charter,” in which rich countries would peg international development and climate assistance to 1% of their gross domestic product and require middle- and low-income nations to devote more money to public health and climate-change mitigation. His plan would tap funds from emergency accounts held by the International Monetary Fund and enlist philanthropy to increase its support for international development. Writing in the journal Foreign Affairs, Shah identified the impact of climate change and COVID-19 on vulnerable populations as a “near-term” threat to global stability. Failure to address the inequitable impact of those crises could have a lasting effect, according to Shah. “Without significant development interventions, increased poverty and suffering will be a decades-long problem,” wrote Shah, who was director of the U.S. Agency for International Development in the Obama administration.

The Rockefeller Foundation in October 2020 committed $1 billion over three years to respond to COVID and prevent future outbreaks. The Gates Foundation is the largest private philanthropy, with nearly $50 billion in assets. The nearly $2 billion the foundation has committed to fighting the pandemic has gone toward developing tests and vaccines, financing the procurement of medical supplies by poor countries, and softening the pandemic’s economic blow.

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