The COVID-19 response is testament to the power of global cooperation

Bill & Melinda Gates
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Two decades ago, we created a foundation focused on global health because we wanted to use the resources from Microsoft to improve as many lives as possible. Health is the bedrock of any thriving society. That fact has never been clearer than it has been over the last year, as the pandemic has upended lives here in the Middle East and around the world.

Even though our foundation had been concerned about a pandemic scenario for a long time – especially after the Ebola epidemic in West Africa – we were shocked by how drastically COVID-19 has disrupted economies, jobs, education, and well-being. All things considered, the Middle East region has fared better than many other parts of the world in terms of cases and deaths, and it has been ahead of the curve with rolling out the vaccine. But the economic effects of the virus have been devastating in a region especially reliant on some of the hardest hit industries, such as tourism and energy.


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While 2020 will be remembered as the year a global threat touched nearly every person on the planet, we hope 2021 will be remembered as the year the whole world benefitted from an equitable and effective COVID-19 response. If there is reason for optimism, it’s that over the past year, the world has seen the largest public health effort in its history: one involving policymakers, researchers, healthcare workers, business leaders, grassroots organizers, religious communities, and so many others around the globe working together in new ways.

That kind of shared effort is important, because in a global crisis like this one, you don’t want companies making decisions driven by a profit motive or governments acting with the narrow goal of protecting only their own citizens. You need a lot of different people and interests coming together in goodwill to benefit all of humanity.

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Philanthropy can help facilitate that cooperation. Because our foundation has been working on infectious diseases for decades, we have strong, long-standing relationships with the World Health Organization, experts, governments, and the private sector. And because our foundation is specifically focused on the challenges facing the world’s poorest people, we also understand the importance of ensuring that everyone involved in the pandemic response is considering the unique needs of low-income countries, too.

To date, our foundation has invested $1.75 billion in the fight against COVID-19. Most of that funding has gone toward producing and procuring crucial medical supplies. For example, we backed researchers developing new COVID-19 treatments, and we worked with partners to ensure that these drugs are formulated in a way that’s easy to transport and use in the poorest parts of the world so they benefit people everywhere. We’ve also supported efforts to find and distribute safe and effective vaccines against the virus.

The fact that COVID-19 vaccines are already becoming available is a stunning testament to the power of global cooperation. No one country or company could have achieved this alone. Funders around the world pooled resources, competitors shared research findings, and everyone involved had a head start thanks to many years of global investment in technologies that have helped unlock a new era in vaccine development. For example, Saudi Arabia alone contributed $500 million in funding the global health response in 2020, of which $300 million was for vaccine development and distribution. It also used its G20 Presidency last year to convene and rally support from global leaders.

Of course, developing safe and effective vaccines is only the beginning of the story. Distributing the vaccine matters, too. Now, the world has to get those doses out to everyone who needs them – no matter where they live. To make that happen, we’ll need to rely on organizations like Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. Gavi has delivered vaccines to 822 million kids in low-income countries over the last twenty years, and now they’re helping lead the international effort to distribute COVID-19 vaccines.

As hard as it is to imagine right now while so many people are still suffering from COVID-19, this pandemic will come to an end someday. When that moment gets here, it will be because of the people all over the world who came together to steer us through this crisis. Their courage and commitment will get us past this pandemic, and we owe it to them to recover in a way that leaves the whole world stronger and more prepared for the next challenge.

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Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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