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Story | Education
17 November 2020

Op-ed: Working together during COVID-19


Image source: Twinsterphoto, via Shutterstock

Joe Cerrell, Managing Director, Global Policy and Advocacy, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, who recently spoke at a seminar hosted by Qatar Foundation partner university, shares his views on what a post-COVID-19 world should look like

The world has seen remarkable progress in global development over the past 20 years, with improvements recorded in virtually all the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

More children have survived thanks to the global efforts to combat infectious diseases that hit the poorest the hardest; more women and girls have transformed their lives as barriers to their economic participation have been removed; and more smallholder farmers have benefited from innovative new crops that can withstand heat, floods and drought.

But we have to confront the new reality – that the COVID-19 pandemic has halted this progress in its tracks. The full impact on long-term development is yet to even be fully understood. What is already clear is that the world has regressed on nearly every indicator, and poorer countries will be disproportionately affected, given the fewer resources they have to tackle them.

The global immunization rate has already dropped from 84 percent to 70 percent – a 25-year setback in just 25 weeks; and the number of people in extreme poverty – those living on $1.90 a day or less – has gone up 7 percent after more than 20 straight years of decline.

These inequalities are what drove our co-chairs to set up, in 2000, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation which works towards achieving a vision of a world where every person has the opportunity to live a healthy and productive life. Much of our work focuses on global health and development.

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We have 38 program areas that focus on combatting infectious diseases; ensuring more children and young people survive and thrive; empowering the poorest, especially women and girls, to build livelihoods; and, inspiring people to take action and change the world.

In addition to global health, one of our largest program areas is agriculture development. We support country-led inclusive agricultural transformation across sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia as we strongly believe in the link between economic growth and increasing the incomes of smallholder farmers.

In the Middle East, we have partnered with governments, organizations, and individuals who are taking ownership of major global development challenges to improve the lives of people living in poverty. Across this work, the power of partnerships stands out as a critical ingredient for success. To achieve ambitious global development goals, we have learnt that it is crucial to work together to make sure that the most vulnerable populations do not get left behind.

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Qatar has historically been an active supporter of many of the same issues that our foundation cares about, and has been an active partner in many of the world’s most impactful multilateral partnerships, including the Lives & Livelihood Fund (LLF), Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the Global Financing Facility (GFF), and the Global Fund against Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

Today, the most critical area of focus for the foundation and our partners is to identify tools to mitigate the impact and duration of the COVID-19 pandemic globally, and to make sure that these tools are accessible to those that need them the most. We have already witnessed the social and economic devastation the pandemic has caused across the world.

Through the Access to COVID Tools Accelerator (ACT-Accelerator), partners around the world, including our foundation, are working to facilitate the development of safe and effective diagnostics, treatments, and vaccines, while aiming to ensure equitable access to these vital tools, including in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).

The ACT-Accelerator is a remarkable collaborative effort to end the pandemic and involves commitments from multiple governments and proven multilateral organizations like Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and the World Health Organization.

Once we have discovered a safe and viable vaccine against COVID-19, Gavi will play a critical role in ensuring the delivery of vaccines to at-risk populations around the world. Gavi has been working for more than two decades to make vaccines affordable and accessible, delivering immunizations to over 800 million children and helping to avert 14 million deaths.

Gavi launched the Advance Market Commitment (AMC), a mechanism which supports the procurement of vaccines for LMICs that cannot afford them otherwise. This is a great example of multilateralism as higher income countries come together to finance this effort.

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In this pandemic, there is no difference between helping yourself and helping others. This is a shared global crisis that demands a shared global response, because without equitable distribution of vaccines and therapeutics, COVID-19 anywhere is a risk to us everywhere. Countries need to act collectively now to mitigate the risk to the global economy, host major global events, like the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, and build back a better, more inclusive world for future generations.

Georgetown University in Qatar (GU-Q), a Qatar Foundation partner university, along with Education Above All Foundation, hosted Joe Cerrell, Managing Director of Global Policy and Advocacy for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, for a virtual seminar on the topic of Working Together During COVID-19: A Global Approach to Development.

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