Let there be no pandemic have-nots


Inequitable divide leaves humanity more vulnerable to next stage of pandemic, as well as to other systemic crisis that may emerge.

By Mark Malloch-Brown , Raj Shah and Darren Walker

Published: Mon 18 Oct 2021, 10:15 PM

Covid-19 has bifurcated the world like almost nothing else. The wealthiest countries have more than enough vaccine doses with which to protect their people from the ravages of the virus, while the poorest countries do not.

Those in the Global North also have the means to stave off economic calamity and social disruption through massive stimulus packages, while hundreds of millions in the Global South have been driven into extreme poverty. This inequitable divide leaves humanity far more vulnerable to the next stage of the pandemic, as well as to any other systemic crisis that may emerge.

As leaders of some of the world’s largest philanthropies, there are two things we know for sure. First, history has taught us that transformational change almost always has been triggered by some deep crisis. Second, only by coming together can the world muster the bold, urgent action needed to reverse the great divergence between the haves and have-nots that we see today. Only through cooperation and coordination can we launch a transformative era of progress.

To that end, the Aliko Dangote Foundation, Archewell Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Chaudhary Foundation in Nepal, the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, the Ford Foundation, Fundación Saldarriaga Concha, the Kagiso Trust, the MasterCard Foundation, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, the Open Society Foundations, the OppGen Philanthropies, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation have joined forces to establish a global alliance of foundations. And we are inviting other philanthropies to join our network.

At our first meeting recently, we agreed that our organisations, which have so far collectively pledged $3 billion to fight Covid-19, will mobilise additional resources, expertise, and advocacy power to bolster global efforts. Our strategies will be shaped by the advice of institutions like the World Health Organisation and the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as civil-society groups and community leaders around the world.

Over the past year, our respective institutions have supported the communities and individuals on the front lines of the crisis, showing in their response the best of what humanity has to offer: commitment, solidarity, courage, and compassion. Now, the leaders of wealthier countries and global institutions must do the same.

To encourage the necessary global action, our coalition will advocate for two primary objectives. First, the world must assume collective responsibility to achieve the WHO’s ambitious targets to vaccinate at least 40 per ent of the population in low- and middle-income countries by the end of this year, and 70 per cent by September 2022. We call on government leaders and policymakers – including those attending this week’s World Bank and International Monetary Fund meetings in Washington, DC, and the G20 summit in Rome later this month – to provide the doses, financial resources, and delivery logistics needed to achieve these targets.

Governments that have stockpiled hundreds of thousands of vaccine doses must immediately redistribute them to low-vaccination countries before they expire in the coming months. And looking beyond this immediate emergency, we must make critical investments to build long-term pharmaceutical manufacturing capacities in poorer countries, so that we will be prepared for the next global public-health crisis.

Second, to spur global economic recovery, we urge the governments of high-income countries to reallocate at least $100 billion in recycled special drawing rights (SDRs, the IMF’s reserve asset) for low- and middle-income countries in 2021. We also call on them to commit to a $100 billion replenishment of the World Bank’s International Development Association fund to support the pandemic response and economic recovery in the world’s poorest countries.

We believe that foundations, working within the new coalition and on their own, can play a key role in backing and reinforcing national and global efforts. Together, we will support those voices who will hold leaders’ feet to the fire until they have delivered on public health and the economic recoveries.

There is no time to waste. Every month’s delay brings more unnecessary risk and injustice by nurturing new, potentially deadlier variants of the coronavirus, by exposing more people to infection and death, by widening existing inequalities and driving more people into poverty, and by fomenting social and political unrest. And we must confront all of this at a moment when we also face the existential threat of climate change.

The longer we drag our feet, the more opportunities we will lose. Inaction translates into more businesses that cannot launch, more hours of school disruptions for students eager to learn, and more months of unemployment for people who are ready to get back to work.

The pandemic is far from the only issue that humanity faces, so our respective foundations will continue to work in many places and on many other issues after the immediate health and economic crises have passed. But we know that without action today, these interrelated crises will compound humanity’s longer-term challenges. And we know that, together, we can meet this decisive moment and help to ensure a more equitable, sustainable future for all.

Mark Malloch-Brown, a former deputy United Nations secretary-general and co-chair of the UN Foundation, is president of the Open Society Foundations. Raj Shah is president of the Rockefeller Foundation. Darren Walker is president of the Ford Foundation.

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