The COVID-19 response is testament to the power of global cooperation
Two decades ago, we created a foundation focused on global health because we wanted to use the resources from Microsoft to improve as many lives as possible. Health is the bedrock of any thriving society. That fact has never been clearer than it has been over the last year, as the pandemic has upended lives in Africa and around the world.
Even though our foundation had been concerned about a pandemic scenario for a long time—especially after the Ebola epidemic in West Africa—we were shocked by how drastically COVID-19 has disrupted economies, jobs, education, and well-being.
In Africa, although many countries were quick to react, the health and economic impacts have been felt across the continent. These impacts, however, have not been felt equally. COVID-19 is exploiting pre-existing inequalities, especially among the poorest and most vulnerable and particularly for women and girls.
Too many African women are invisible to their governments. Many do not appear in the tax register, have a formal identification, or access to a mobile phone—making it even more difficult to send cash safely and swiftly to a woman in need. With billions of people staying home around the world, total unpaid care work is increasing, and women are taking on even more of this work. But still, we believe it is possible for the world to emerge from this pandemic more equal than it entered it.
While 2020 will be remembered as the year a global threat touched nearly every person on the planet, we hope 2021 will be remembered as the year the whole world benefitted from an equitable and effective COVID-19 response. If there is reason for optimism, it’s that over the past year, the world has seen the largest public health effort in its history: one involving policymakers, researchers, healthcare workers, business leaders, grassroots organizers, religious communities, and so many others around the globe working together in new ways.
That kind of shared effort is important, because in a global crisis like this one, you don’t want companies making decisions driven by a profit motive or governments acting with the narrow goal of protecting only their own citizens. You need a lot of different people and interests coming together in goodwill to benefit all of humanity.
Philanthropy can help facilitate that cooperation. Because our foundation has been working on infectious diseases for decades, we have strong, long-standing relationships with the World Health Organization, experts, governments, and the private sector. And because our foundation is specifically focused on the challenges facing the world’s poorest people, we also understand the importance of ensuring that everyone involved in the pandemic response is considering the unique needs of low-income countries, too.
To date, our foundation has committed $1.75 billion to the fight against COVID-19. Most of that funding has gone toward producing and procuring crucial medical supplies. For example, we backed researchers developing new COVID-19 treatments, and we worked with partners to ensure that these drugs are formulated in a way that’s easy to transport and use in the poorest parts of the world so they benefit people everywhere. We’ve also supported efforts to find and distribute safe and effective vaccines against the virus.
The fact that COVID-19 vaccines are already becoming available is a stunning testament to the power of global cooperation. No one country or company could have achieved this alone.
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Funders around the world pooled resources, competitors shared research findings, and everyone involved had a head start thanks to many years of global investment in technologies that have helped unlock a new era in vaccine development.
Of course, developing safe and effective vaccines is only the beginning of the story. Distributing the vaccine matters, too. Now, the world has to get those doses out to everyone who needs them—no matter where they live. To make that happen, we’ll need to rely on organizations like Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. Gavi has delivered vaccines to 822 million kids in low-income countries over the last twenty years, and now they’re helping lead the international effort to distribute COVID-19 vaccines.
As hard as it is to imagine right now while so many people are still suffering from COVID-19, this pandemic will come to an end someday. When that moment gets here, it will be because of the people all over the world who came together to steer us through this crisis. In Africa, immense resilience and expertise gained from infectious disease outbreaks like Ebola and polio have helped countries respond to COVID-19, powering scientific research and innovation.
These important contributions will help get the world through this pandemic, and in return, the world must commit to rebuilding in a way that positions families across Africa and around the globe to emerge from this pandemic stronger and more prepared for the next challenge.