One year into the Covid-19 pandemic, nearly every country in the world is in the midst of a health and economic crisis. How much longer the crisis lasts, and how much worse it gets, depends in large part on what the global community does next.
The most important priority is to stop the loss of life and the economic scarring as soon as possible. And that means working together to deliver Covid-19 vaccines to all countries, not just the richest ones. The global community has never done anything like this before. It will be a test of our humanity and our ingenuity. But with leadership from countries like the UAE, we can succeed.
This week, the UAE convenes leaders from across the world for the World Immunisation and Logistics Summit to identify solutions to the complex challenges inherent in transporting large amounts of sensitive vaccine cargo across the world.
The summit is just the latest step in the UAE’s contribution to global development. In recent years, the nation has consistently been among the most generous foreign aid donors in the world as a proportion of national income. And the UAE’s leadership has been playing an important role in the fight against infectious diseases even before the pandemic.
A little over a year ago, the UAE hosted the global pledging moment for the Global Polio Eradication Initiative in Abu Dhabi, and Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, launched the Global Institute for Disease Elimination (GLIDE) alongside our foundation. GLIDE is a new organisation but is already playing an important role in the fight against malaria, polio, neglected diseases and now Covid-19.
Since the pandemic struck, the UAE has continued to play its part. Like many other countries, it has rightly focused on protecting its own people from the virus while at the same time seeking ways to help protect people in other countries. Invaluable assistance of one kind or another has been provided by the UAE to more than 70 countries.
At the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, we have also been focused over the past year on how we can help end the pandemic, cushion the impact for the poorest and build an inclusive recovery. To date, we have allocated $1.75 billion to the Covid-19 response, and we have started thinking in new ways about all aspects of our giving to reflect the impact and lessons of the pandemic.
From vaccine development to delivery, the Gates Foundation has committed a great deal of resources to ensuring equitable access. In fact, fair access to life-saving vaccines is part of why our foundation was set up. One of Bill and Melinda Gates’ first big philanthropic projects was to help create Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the organisation that works with lower income countries and has immunised more than 800 million children since its inception.
Now, we’re working with Gavi, Unicef, CEPI, WHO and many others on what is called Covax, an innovative way to organise a global partnership to make sure that the 92 poorest countries in the world have access to Covid-19 vaccines. We are working hard to make sure that Covax is fully funded, because we believe it is the world’s best option for distributing vaccines equitably.
Many countries are generously considering donating vaccines to others, and that is commendable. But our experience working with Gavi over the last 20 years has shown how much more efficient it is when you do this through a truly global mechanism.
Since Gavi was founded, the price of vaccines for poor countries has crashed to just a fraction of what it was because of the buying power of a single, global procurer. And the efficiency of being able to allocate vaccines based on need, not politics, has meant that overall vaccination rates have climbed from little over 60 per cent before Gavi was founded to over 80 per cent now. We owe it to the world to use this tried and tested system to solve the pandemic on a global scale.
An equitable response is critical, and not just for low-income countries, because all countries must depend on one another for prosperity in a global economy.
It is natural that high-income countries might be wary of investing in equitable access at a time of economic crisis. By themselves, initiatives like Covax may seem like they cost a lot of money at a time when money feels scarce. But study after study has shown that Covax is not just an act of generosity, it is an act of self-preservation, too, because no one is safe from Covid-19 until everyone is safe.
One reason I am optimistic that the world will rise up to the challenge of equitable vaccine distribution is that pioneers like the UAE are convening summits like today's to think pragmatically about how to do it. In times of crisis, it is easy to see who has the foresight and the strength to take on the toughest problems and lead the world toward equity and prosperity. We are grateful for the many leaders who have come together to face this crisis.
Mark Suzman is chief executive of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation