15-million cases and 617,000 deaths. To many, the quick spread and drastic transformation of society at the turn of the coronavirus pandemic was a shock. That’s not to say many didn’t see it coming: WHO published a strategic action plan for pandemic influenza in 2007 and in 2014 Bill Gates, representing the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, presented a TED Talk about his anticipation of both a pandemic and societal lack of preparation for such an international medical crisis.
The Gates Foundation has been making efforts to help mitigate the current crisis by creating global access to medical innovation. We invited Dr. Ruth Atherton, Deputy General Counsel and Director at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to speak at last month’s OurCrowd Pandemic Innovation Conference where she offered insight into what’s been going on and what we can expect.
“The world bank currently estimates that for the first time since 1998, global poverty could actually increase,” said Atherton. “Up to 49-million people may be pushed to extreme poverty, which means living on less than $1.90 a day.” Atherton stated that, therefore, global access to developments in medicine and technology is crucial to curbing the spread of the coronavirus. To increase “access, uptake, and availability” of these developments, the Gates Foundation focuses on four courses of action: improving detection, accelerating research and development, protecting the most vulnerable, particularly in more vulnerable areas like Africa and South Asia, and minimizing the social and economic impacts. One example of this is the therapeutics accelerator which Atherton described as “a collaborative project to accelerate R&D, to bring drug and biologics to the market to help in the COVID response.”
Increasing global access requires more than shipments of medicine and technology to communities in need of extra support. It requires innovators to consider elements of accessibility such as timeliness, affordability, durability, and storage requirements. The Gates Foundation has already raised $350 million dollars for COVID-19 relief, $300 million of which is specifically for therapeutics research and development. But there is still plenty of work to be done before reaching the billions of dollars that Atherton says are needed to make the necessary innovations available to everyone.