Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation shifts ‘total attention’ to Covid-19

27 Apr 2020

Image: © tuastockphoto/

The foundation has already committed $250m to Covid-19 relief efforts, but Bill Gates wants its ‘total attention’ to focus on the pandemic.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Microsoft founder Bill Gates said that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will be focusing on the Covid-19 pandemic – even if it means other public health work will suffer.

“This has the foundation’s total attention,” Gates said. “Even our non-health related work, like higher education and [primary and secondary education] is completely switched around to look at how you facilitate online learning.”

The charity, which has an endowment of more than $40bn, has already committed $250m to coronavirus response and relief efforts. However, Gates said that focus has now shifted from HIV, malaria and polio eradication to the impact of Covid-19. He acknowledged that other public health work will suffer as a result of this shift.

“This emergency has distracted a lot of critical work in many, many areas,” Gates told the Financial Times. “Fewer people able to show up for routine immunisation, or supply chains for immunisation not working well, that’s hundreds of thousands of deaths right there. If we can’t keep getting malaria treatments out effectively, that’s a huge rebound in malaria.”

Gates added that the ongoing crisis could cost the global economy “tens of trillions of dollars”. Commenting on the enormity of global debt that will be created as governments respond, he said: “If you’d asked me six months ago, I wouldn’t have thought that was possible.”

WHO funding

Gates also condemned Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw US funding from the World Health Organization (WHO). At a press conference earlier this month, Trump said he was halting funding “while a review is conducted to assess the WHO’s role in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus”.

The US is the largest donor to the WHO, while the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is another major contributor. Writing on Twitter at the time, Gates warned that halting funding to the WHO during a global pandemic “is as dangerous as it sounds”.

“Their work is slowing the spread of Covid-19 and if that work is stopped no other organisation can replace them,” he said.

In the Financial Times interview, Gates added that he believes Trump will have a “deep analysis” and decide that the WHO should “get more money, not less money”.

Focus on Africa and south Asia

In a statement on the charity’s website about its funding efforts, Mark Suzman, CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, wrote: “The investments we’ve made, expertise we’ve built and experience we’ve gained over the last two decades has prepared us for this moment.

“Our fundamental belief is that all lives have equal value. And since we know epidemics hit the poorest and most vulnerable communities hardest, that’s where our funding is chiefly directed.”

He said that this pandemic could “overwhelm overstretched health systems” in the poorest communities of Africa and south Asia. To reduce this impact, the foundation said it took immediate steps to help vulnerable communities to prepare, even before Covid-19 cases were reported in these areas.

“As the crisis increases, so does our support to help save as many lives as possible and prevent vulnerable communities falling back into hunger and poverty,” Suzman added.

“This won’t just help people in those countries because what is now crystal clear to the world is that an epidemic anywhere is a threat everywhere. The only way we can prevent a resurgence of this disease is to help the poorest countries strengthen their ability to stop the virus.”

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has also said that it is funding R&D into vaccinations, disease modelling, and looking at different approaches to physical distancing and stay-at-home policies.

“It’s not just our financial resources and technical expertise that we’re deploying,” Suzman wrote. “We’re also providing knowledge and assistance to industry, multilateral institutions and governments around the world – and making the case for global cooperation and coordination.”

Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic