Gates Foundation boosts pandemic funding to $255m

Bill Gates holds talks with Abu Dhabi's Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed over global coronavirus response

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has announced a further $150m for the global coronavirus response - more than doubling its total funding for the pandemic to above $250m.

The new money will be used to spur the development of vaccines, diagnostics and treatments, as well as to shore up health systems in Africa and south Asia, and help mitigate the economic impact of the virus in the world’s poorest countries.

In addition, the foundation will also use part of its $2.5bn Strategic Investment Fund - through tools such as equity investments, loans, and volume guarantees – to help low and middle-income countries buy medical supplies, testing kits and protective equipment for healthcare workers.

“So long as Covid-19 is somewhere, we need to act as if it were everywhere.”The foundation was among the first philanthropic organisations to put money towards coronavirus. It pledged $100m in March to focus on kickstarting vaccine and diagnostics research, alongside a further $5m for frontline responses in the greater Seattle region, where the Gates Foundation is located. 

Making the case for a global response to the pandemic, Bill Gates said: “Covid-19 doesn’t obey border laws. Even if most countries succeed in slowing the disease over the next few months, the virus could return if the pandemic remains severe enough elsewhere.”

He added: “The world community must understand that so long as Covid-19 is somewhere, we need to act as if it were everywhere. Beating this pandemic will require an unprecedented level of international funding and cooperation.” 

Meanwhile, the UAE, which has already sent medical equipment to Italy, Iran, Cyprus and Pakistan - and this week supplied an Etihad aircraft to deliver emergency supplies to Ethiopia to be distributed to other African countries - is considering how it might expand its response.

In a phone call with Bill Gates on Wednesday, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan discussed opportunities for tackling coronavirus through greater co-operation with the Gates Foundation through existing partnerships and initiatives.

The Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi has a strong record on supporting public health initiatives, building on the legacy of his father, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the UAE’s founding president. Sheikh Zayed was a pioneer donor to the Carter Centre, the foundation set up by former US head of state Jimmy Carter, and its campaign to eradicate Guinea worm disease.

In 2017, in conjunction with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Sheikh Mohamed announced the formation of a groundbreaking $100m fund to target NTDs in seven countries. He also unveiled plans for the creation of the Abu Dhabi-based Global Institute for Disease Elimination (GLIDE). He has also personally committed more than $250m towards global health causes.

The news of this additional funding from the Gates Foundation comes just days after US President Donald Trump said he would be freezing American funding to the World Health Organisation (WHO), pending the outcome of a “review”. Mr Trump accused the WHO of “severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus”.

The move has been widely criticised by global experts. Bill Gates tweeted: “Halting funding for the World Health Organisation during a world health crisis is as dangerous as it sounds. Their work is slowing the spread of Covid-19 and if that work is stopped no other organisation can replace them. The world needs the WHO now more than ever.”

Gates Foundation CEO Mark Suzman said cross-sector cooperation would be key to curbing the pandemic.

“Philanthropy cannot—and should not—supplant the public and private sectors,” he said. “What philanthropy is good at is testing out ideas that might not otherwise get tried, so governments and businesses can then take on the successful ones. With all sectors working together, we can avoid the worst-case scenarios of human, economic, and social costs.”