Maverick Citizen

Gates Foundation report reveals how Covid-19 devastated progress towards UN development goals

By Ufrieda Ho 16 September 2020

Bill and Melinda Gates during a visit to the Gugulethu Community Health Clinic in 2019. Photo: Gates Foundation

The 2020 Goalkeepers Report shows wholesale derailment of development goals due to Covid-19. And with nations scrambling for control of a vaccine, the worst may still be to come. 

Smarter collaboration, commitment and confronting society’s inequalities is what it’s going to take for a world emerging from Covid-19 to get back on track to improve the lives of the most vulnerable.

The Goalkeepers Report released yesterday shows a devastating slide in progress in meeting the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Covid-19 has wiped out 20 years of progress according to the fourth annual tracker report, authored by Bill and Melinda Gates through their philanthropic foundation. The knock-on effect of the pandemic has resulted in regression across all 18 SDG indicators.

Among the most sobering statistics are that extreme poverty (measured at a person surviving on less than $1.90 a day) has increased by 7% and vaccine coverage (a measure of how well health systems are functioning) has dropped to levels last seen in the 1990s. “It’s setting the world back about 25 years in 25 weeks,” the authors noted.

The report also highlights the direct and indirect impacts for HIV and TB patients in a time of Covid. Many people were unable to access treatment during lockdowns, which increased risks of mortality, infection spikes, defaulting in treatment and drug resistance.

Women were found to be unequally affected by the economic fallouts from Covid, according to the report. Around the world women make up the majority of informal sector workers and are as such less likely to be able to access formalised government safety nets for loss of income due to lockdown restrictions. The report found that across Africa informal workers experienced 80% loss of earnings in just the first month of the pandemic. 

For the first time this year the Goalkeepers Report has also focused on hunger. The Gateses write: “We don’t usually track food insecurity, but this year according to the United Nations, economic shocks will plunge between 83 and 132 million people into food insecurity.”

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s key response plan to Covid-19 has centred on their support for the World Health Organization’s Access to Covid-19 (ACT) Accelerator. The collaborative initiative launched in April brings together governments, scientists, businesses, civil society, philanthropists and global health organisations to speed up the development and equitable distribution of Covid-19 tests, treatments and vaccines.

Bill and Melinda write in their report: “Governments are essentially placing long-shot bets on the vaccine candidates they hope will ‘win’ —but most will lose. One way to minimise this risk is for countries to invest jointly in a large portfolio of candidates.”

They also warn that no single country has the manufacturing capacity to make the billions of doses of a vaccine that will be needed even when a successful vaccine is developed. Failure to collaborate to manufacture at speed and scale will “means a longer pandemic, more deaths, and a longer global recession”.

They added: “Researchers are very close to developing safe, effective coronavirus vaccines, but breakthrough science must be met by breakthrough generosity. We need leaders in government and the pharmaceutical industry to ensure that everyone, regardless of where they live, can access these vaccines. And we’re hopeful that will happen.”

Innovation, research and development and equitable access are part of the broad strategy the Gateses believe will help arrest the pandemic, restore economic stability and return the world to a programme of achieving the SDGs.

Natalie Africa, a Johannesburg-based senior advisor at the Foundation said the next step in overcoming the effects of Covid-19 must be “a comprehensive response – a whole society response”.

She said this includes economic support that bolsters entrepreneurship especially among women and youth; digital financing and banking and; improving tech support for small businesses.

She acknowledged however, the individual challenges of countries. In South Africa it’s the spectre of corruption that has overshadowed the country’s Covid-19 response.

“Clearly governance is important when it comes to achieving development goals. Corruption undermines the ability to respond to both the health targets as well as in helping to solve the economic catastrophe that Covid has incurred. And if we respect that all lives have equal value then the cost of corruption will be clear to people,” she said. In South Africa question marks have also hung over the accuracy and reliability of Covid-19 data and statistics as well the methodology and capacity to gather data for meaningful analysis. This has included data on infections rates, the number of Covid tests conducted and the number and nature of excess deaths.

Africa said good data is essential for effective analysis and intervention and said the foundation has for some years invested in building strong data systems for disease surveillance in South Africa. It’s included support for the National Health Insurance and bolstering systems on a provincial basis.

In the Western Cape, the Foundation has since 2016 helped set up a provincial health data centre to connect about two dozen independent data sources. These include lab tests, hospital admissions, treatment history and other vital information that provide more complete medical histories of patients.

“This became the current provincial Covid-19 dashboard, which has received more than one million hits and allows the province to understand how the epidemic is affecting those at highest risk of severe disease and death,” she said.

Ultimately she said six months of Covid-19 lockdown has shown that the need for “more consistent and robust global investment in the health systems and technologies are needed to counter disease threats before they become global outbreaks”.

And her warning is that even when the worst of the pandemic is over, the scramble for a vaccine and who will get the first doses will further test the world’s ability to act as a global community for the benefit of more people.

Africa added that modelling reflected in the report should be an alarm. “Covid-19 will flare up everywhere until it is managed everywhere. If the first two billion doses of vaccine go to rich countries instead of all countries equitably, the total number of deaths could double.” DM/MC

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  • It wasn’t Covid-19 which devastated progress towards the development goals of the UN, it was the clumsy and draconian and response to it.

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