Gates Foundation report finds stark disparities in COVID-19 impact

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The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's fifth annual Goalkeepers Report shows that disparities caused by COVID-19 remain stark, as an additional 31 million people were pushed into extreme poverty in 2020 compared with 2019. Additionally, only a third of low- and middle-income economies are expected to regain pre-pandemic per capita income levels by next year.

Nevertheless, the report notes that the world has stepped up efforts to avert some of the worst-case scenarios amid the devastation caused by the pandemic. 

In the report, Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates, the foundation's co-chairs, highlight the "breathtaking innovation" that was only possible because of global collaboration, commitment, and investment over decades.

They acknowledge that while averting worst-case scenarios is commendable, it's not enough. 

To ensure a truly equitable recovery from the pandemic, the co-chairs call for long-term investments in health and economies — like the ones that led to the rapid development of the COVID-19 vaccine — to propel recovery efforts and get the world back on track to meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

The cover of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's fifth annual Goalkeepers Report. [Photo captured by]

"[The past year] has reinforced our belief that progress is possible but not inevitable," they wrote in the report. "If we can expand upon the best of what we've seen these past 18 months, we can finally put the pandemic behind us and once again accelerate progress in addressing fundamental issues like health, hunger, and climate change."

According to the report, in high- and low-income countries alike, women have been harder hit than men by the global recession triggered by the pandemic. 

"Women face structural barriers in every corner of the world, leaving them more vulnerable to the impacts of the pandemic," said Melinda French Gates.

"By investing in women now and addressing these inequities, governments can spur a more equitable recovery while strengthening their economies against future crises. It's not just the right thing to do — but smart policy that will benefit everyone," she added.

The report also illustrates how the so-called "miracle" of COVID-19 vaccines was the result of decades of investment, policies, and partnerships that established the infrastructure, talent, and ecosystems necessary to deploy them quickly.

Still, as such systems exist primarily in wealthy countries, the world has not benefited equally in this regard.

"The lack of equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines is a public health tragedy," said Bill Gates. "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."

Specifically, the report notes that more than 80% of all COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in high- and upper-middle-income countries to date, with some securing two to three times the number of doses needed so they can cover boosters. In the meantime, less than 1% of doses have been administered in low-income countries.

The report further calls for the world to invest in R&D, infrastructure, and innovation in places closer to the people who stand to benefit.

"We must invest in local partners to strengthen the capacity of researchers and manufacturers in lower-income countries to create the vaccines and medicines they need," said Mark Suzman, CEO of the Gates Foundation. "The only way we will solve our greatest health challenges is by drawing on the innovation and talent of people all over the world."

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