A new report from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation details the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on global health progress and lays out expectations for best and worst case scenarios moving forward.
In previous years, the Goalkeepers Reports have tracked the world’s steady progress toward the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which include increasing literacy rates and vaccine coverage, and eliminating extreme poverty by 2030. This year, the report found evidence of unprecedented setbacks.
“The pandemic has, in almost every dimension, made inequity worse,” said Bill Gates during a press conference, Oliver Whang reports for National Geographic.
Normally, the reports analyze data gathered in the previous year, but this year the Gates Foundation attempted to generate information in real-time, Helen Branswell reports for Stat News. The report presents evidence that vaccine coverage has dropped to levels not seen since the 1990s. And the number of people living on less than two dollars per day is projected to rise by about seven percent by the end of 2020—the first time the rate of extreme poverty has risen in 20 years.
The report also highlights research from Northeastern University that found that if the first two billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines are spread equitably across the world, 61 percent of deaths can be averted. If the early vaccine doses primarily reach the world’s highest bidders, only 33 percent of deaths will be averted.
The Gates Foundation focuses its global health efforts in low- and middle-income countries in Asia and Africa. In those countries, Covid-19 has killed a much smaller percentage of the populations than in the Americas and Western Europe. But the economic impact of the pandemic has been greater in countries with “no spare reserves to draw on,” Gates tells Donald McNeil Jr. at the New York Times.
The impacts of the pandemic have disproportionately fallen on women and girls in lower income countries, who make up the majority of the 37 million people who have been pushed into extreme poverty in the last six months. Informal jobs doing housework or street vending, usually done by women, have been hit hard, and studies following the 2014 Ebola epidemic in West Africa suggest that girls may be less likely to return to school after a disease outbreak than boys.
“The loss of education that’s taken place and continues to take place — you know, that’s a terrible thing and does not bode well for the future because that’s such a key investment,” Gates said in the press conference, per Stat News.
“The kind of suffering that’s been created when you’re uncertain about where you’re going to get your food. The mental health impacts of all the restrictions that have been put in place — that’s another one that’s very difficult to measure.”
The Goalkeepers Report imagines two possible scenarios for the end of the pandemic. In a best case scenario, safe and effective vaccines against the virus that causes Covid-19 will be produced by the middle of 2021. If the vaccine is distributed worldwide and the pandemic is brought to a close, then it may take another couple of years to bring global health measures back to 2020 levels.
In a worst case scenario, global health may not recover for a decade or more. It depends on how companies and countries act in the next few months, Gates said in the press conference. To quote the report: “There is no such thing as a national solution to a global crisis.”
Although the United States was unprepared in many ways for the emergence of a new virus—for example, it was late in developing and distributing diagnostic tests—Gates says that the rate of innovation by pharmaceutical companies, and the strength of modern technology, keep him optimistic.
“If this pandemic had come ten years ago, our internet bandwidth wouldn’t have let us do our office jobs, the vaccine platforms wouldn’t be as far along,” Gates tells Susan Goldberg at National Geographic.
“It’s phenomenal that we can say that within a few years, with a little bit of luck on the vaccines, some generosity, and real effort to get the word out that it’s safe, this pandemic will come to a close.”