Gates Foundation shifts ‘total attention’ from HIV, malaria and polio to COVID-19

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Bill Gates says his foundation, the world’s wealthiest charity, will give its “total attention” to the COVID-19 pandemic – even at the risk that its other public health work will suffer. BusinessLIVE reports that in a telephone interview from his Seattle base, Gates said the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has an endowment of more than $40bn, would focus its resources on a pandemic that he fears will cost the global economy “tens of trillions of dollars.”

“You’re going to have economies with greatly reduced activity levels for years,” Gates said. “So-called ‘animal spirits’ are going to be hard to find, other than government largesse. We’re definitely in the tens (of trillions), which blows the mind. If you’d asked me six months ago, I wouldn’t have thought that was possible.”

Although the foundation has directly given $250m to the COVID-19 response, its actual commitment of staff and expertise is much greater, Gates said. “We’ve taken an organisation that was focused on HIV and malaria and polio eradication, and almost entirely shifted it to work on this,” he said. “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 said clinical trials of a promising new HIV/Aids drug and campaigns for measles vaccinations and polio eradication would suffer as a result of the focus on COVID-19.

The report says the Gates Foundation is committed to global action against COVID-19 in collaboration with the world’s other leading public health bodies, which have agreed collectively to work together with the private sector under the auspices of the World Health Organisation (WHO) to accelerate the development of diagnostics, drugs and vaccines against the virus.

Also, the report says, Gates defends the WHO against accusations from US president Donald Trump and others that the UN body has mismanaged the pandemic response and is too close to China. “The WHO is clearly very, very important and should actually get extra support to perform their role during this epidemic,” he said. He does not believe that Trump will carry out his threat to withdraw US funding from WHO. “I think he will do deep analysis and decide that they probably should get more money, not less money,” Gates said.

Full BusinessLIVE report

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