On Wednesday, Bill and Melinda Gates shared their 2021 Annual Letter, “The Year Global Health Went Local.” In this year’s letter, Bill and Melinda reflect on the worldwide impact of COVID-19 and the global collaboration and scientific innovation fueling one of the largest public health efforts in history. They share why they are optimistic the world can emerge from the pandemic stronger, healthier, and more resilient, and discuss two areas they believe are essential to building a better future: prioritizing equity and preparing for the next pandemic.
“COVID-19 has cost lives, sickened millions, and thrust the global economy into a devastating recession,” Bill and Melinda write. “Although we have a long recovery in front of us, the world has achieved some significant victories against the virus in the form of new tests, treatments, and vaccines. We believe these new tools will soon begin bending the curve in a big way.”
Bill and Melinda argue that in response to the pandemic, donors from around the world contributed resources, competitors shared research findings, and years of global investment helped unlock a new era in vaccine development, delivering safe, effective vaccines in record time. They caution, however, that the pandemic has also exacerbated pre-existing health disparities, particularly for essential workers, communities of color, people experiencing poverty, and women. They express concern that the pandemic could also perpetuate another type of injustice: immunity inequality. They call for an inclusive response that addresses the uneven social and economic impacts of the virus.
“From the beginning of the pandemic, we have urged wealthy nations to remember that COVID-19 anywhere is a threat everywhere. Until vaccines reach everyone, new clusters of the disease will keep popping up. The cycle of inequality will continue,” Melinda writes. “Everything depends on whether the world comes together to ensure that the lifesaving science developed in 2020 saves as many lives as possible in 2021.”
Bill and Melinda also stress that it’s not too early to think about the next pandemic. Although stopping it will require tens of billions of dollars per year, they note that COVID-19 has cost the world an estimated $28 trillion. They urge continued investment in testing, treatments, and vaccines, and discuss the importance of a global alert system that can detect disease outbreaks as soon as they occur.
“The world now understands how seriously we should take pandemics,” Bill writes. “We’re already seeing new pandemic preparedness strategies emerge and I expect to see more in the months and years to come. The world wasn’t ready for the COVID-19 pandemic. I think next time will be different.”
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation was established with the belief that every person deserves a chance to live a healthy and productive life. To date, the foundation has committed $1.75 billion in the fight against COVID-19, including support for partners in the development and equitable delivery of vaccines, tests, and treatments.