DUBAI: The COVID-19 pandemic has reversed 25 years of progress in global health standards, and its long-term hit on the global economy will be “literally trillions of dollars,” said philanthropist billionaire Bill Gates.
He was speaking to regional media ahead of the annual publication by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation of the “Goalkeepers” report, which assesses progress toward the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
“Typically, we have positive news, even if it’s not always completely on track. This year is different because of the pandemic. Progress hasn’t just stopped, but gone into reverse,” he said, adding that global immunization programs for other diseases such as polio had faltered because of the focus on the pandemic. “It has reversed the progress of 25 years in 25 weeks.”
Gates praised the efforts of regional governments and the G20 under Saudi presidency, including the $21 billion in funding agreed by G20 health and finance ministers earlier this year.
“The overall record of development aid is very dramatic, and I’m putting billions of dollars of my own money alongside these governments,” he said.
But he warned that volatility in global energy markets could affect regional government revenues and the amount of financial aid available for world health programs.
“It’s unfortunate that wealth has been reduced as the price of oil has gone down. I don’t know yet whether that will affect the scale of the generosity we’ll see from a number of the countries in the Middle East,” he said.
The Microsoft founder hit out at conspiracies that have linked him to the origins of the virus and the development of a vaccine to counter it.
“I’m greatly surprised by some of these conspiracy theories, and the ones involving me are completely incorrect. I’ve not been the target of a conspiracy theory until now, and it’s kind of ironic because I spoke in 2015 about the risk of a pandemic, and I recommended things to help the world get prepared,” he said.
“It’s unfortunate that people are reaching for one simple explanation of why this pandemic happened. We need to get people to understand that wearing masks helps ourselves and other people. The truth isn’t as titillating as the conspiracy message on social media.”
He said it is likely that an effective vaccine will be developed by early next year, but production and distribution present challenges. “The easiest way to overwhelm the virus is by massive production,” he added.
Gates has been a strong advocate of even global distribution of the vaccine once it is ready. “Equable” implementation of a worldwide vaccination program, rather than the “vaccine nationalism” some experts fear, would cut overall death rates in half, he said.