Gates ups pandemic funds to $250m, says Trump move is nonsense

Melinda Gates. Picture: Carlo Allegri/Reuters
Melinda Gates. Picture: Carlo Allegri/Reuters

Pulling funding from the World Health Organisation (WHO) is a dangerous and nonsensical move when the world is facing a health crisis brought on by the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic, Melinda Gates said on Wednesday.

Announcing an extra $150 million of funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to help speed up the development of treatments, vaccines and public health measures to tackle the new coronavirus outbreak, Melinda said the WHO was “exactly the organisation that can deal with this pandemic”.

“Defunding the WHO makes absolutely no sense during a pandemic. We need a global, coordinated response,” Gates, who co-chairs the foundation with Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, said in a telephone interview.

“When you’re in a crisis like this, it’s all hands on deck.”

US President Donald Trump on Tuesday announced a halt in US funding to the WHO, saying it had “failed in its basic duty” in allowing the pandemic to take hold.

Whenever a health crisis hits like this, it’s the people on the margins [who are] hit the most.
Melinda Gates

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is the second largest donor to the WHO, behind the US. Melinda said cutting WHO funding in a health crisis was “as dangerous as it sounds”.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Wednesday that he regretted Trump’s decision. He said the organisation was still assessing the impact and would “try to fill any gaps with partners”.

The philanthropic foundation’s $150 million commitment brings its Covid-19 funding for the international response to date to $250 million, but Melinda said any gap left in the WHO’s funding would be hard for others to fill.

Alongside support for new diagnostics, drugs and vaccines, the foundation’s contribution is primarily aimed at helping poor countries and vulnerable populations handle the oncoming and spreading pandemic as well as the poverty it will cause.

“As a global community, we really need to address what is just beginning [of the pandemic] in African and south Asian countries. We see a huge need and that’s why we have more than doubled our commitment,” she said.

Praising what she described as heroic work by local leaders and healthcare workers in poorer countries seeking to protect vulnerable communities and slow the spread of Covid-19, Melinda said the world’s response to the pandemic “will not be effective unless it is also equitable”.

“Whenever a health crisis hits like this, it’s the people on the margins [who are] hit the most.

“They’re the ones we need to help to ensure things such as cash transfer payments are made and they have access to primary healthcare.”

There are currently no effective vaccines, drugs or other immune system treatments approved to treat Covid-19. The extra funding adds to an initial $100 million which the foundation designed to kick-start scientific and public health projects.

Melinda said the foundation was backing eight projects seeking potential solutions for Covid-19 vaccine development, and has co-funded enhanced virus detection capacity in Africa and contributed to the response in China.

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