The Gates Foundation is more than doubling its donation to the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, making new grants of $150m to partners to create vaccines, drugs and diagnostics and to help countries in south Asia and Africa cope with the crisis.
The philanthropic organisation also called for more global co-operation after US President Donald Trump on Tuesday said he would suspend payments to the WHO temporarily.
Mark Suzman, chief executive of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said it opposes the US decision to suspend funding to the World Health Organization. If the US withdraws permanently, the Gates Foundation would be the largest donor to the body charged with co-ordinating global action against the pandemic.
“In the worst global crisis of our lifetime, we need a strong and fully funded WHO. The United States has traditionally played a strong leadership and supportive role in that and we certainly believe that it should and needs to continue,” Mr Suzman said. “We would strongly oppose any efforts to withhold funding from the World Health Organization.”
The Gates Foundation’s latest commitment brings its total contribution up to $255m, which will be split between funding the development of vaccines, diagnostics and treatments.
European allies and the leadership of the WHO have condemned Mr Trump’s decision to suspend hundreds of millions of dollars in funding while the US conducts a review to assess the organisation’s “role in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus”.
Mr Suzman said philanthropy cannot be used to supplant contributions from the public and private sectors. He called on companies and governments across the world to co-operate more, including funding organisations such as the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, a group funded by governments and non-governmental organisations launched at the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2017, which has yet to meet its funding target for the development of vaccines.
“Even though it’s appropriate for governments to look after their own citizens, we all need to look at the global level,” he said. “We need to come together to address this crisis.”
The Gates Foundation already teamed up with the Wellcome Trust, a UK-based medical research charity, and the payments company Mastercard to establish the Covid-19 therapeutics accelerator, to hunt for drugs to treat the disease.
Even before the crisis, the foundation supported biotech companies developing platforms for creating vaccines more quickly, including German start-up CureVac and Boston-based Moderna, which are now working on vaccines for Covid-19. The foundation now wants governments to pool resources to create manufacturing facilities ready to help scale up any successful vaccine.
As well as direct donations, the Gates Foundation is using some of its $2.5bn strategic investment fund to take equity in companies, give loans and establish contracts committing to purchasing certain volumes of products for manufacturers. These could help low and middle-income countries get access to essential supplies such as personal protective equipment and ventilators.
“There are hospitals in New York that have more ventilators than some African countries,” Mr Suzman said.