The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is more than doubling its funding for the fight against the novel coronavirus pandemic.
The Seattle-based philanthropy, which had already committed $100 million, announced Wednesday it will add an additional $150 million to speed development of drugs and vaccines and strengthen health systems in Africa and South Asia.
“We have a responsibility to meet this global crisis with global solidarity,” Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates said in a statement, a day after President Donald Trump announced he would cut funding for the World Health Organization.
Gates criticized that move via Twitter on Wednesday, writing: “Halting funding for the World Health Organization during a world health crisis is as dangerous as it sounds. Their work is slowing the spread of COVID-19 and if that work is stopped no other organization can replace them. The world needs @WHO now more than ever.”
The foundation will also leverage a portion of its $2.5 billion Strategic Investment Fund to spur rapid procurement of critical medical supplies and help biomedical companies get the financing they need to bring new products to market to help control the virus.
The investment fund provides a mix of loans, equity funding and purchase guarantees to promote development of low-cost health products. Any profits are reinvested in Gates Foundation philanthropic programs.
“COVID-19 doesn’t obey border laws. Even if most countries succeed in slowing the disease over the next few months, the virus could return if the pandemic remains severe enough elsewhere,” Gates said in the statement. “The world community must understand that so long as COVID-19 is somewhere, we need to act as if it were everywhere. Beating this pandemic will require an unprecedented level of international funding and cooperation.”
One of the priorities for the additional $150 million is scaling up detection, treatment and isolation efforts in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, where health systems are weak, and the virus could be spreading unseen. Emergency operations centers normally used to monitor polio and support malaria eradication will be used for coronavirus work.
Another priority is minimizing the social and economic impact of the pandemic on some of the world’s poorest people, who live on less than $1.90 a day.
The foundation will also expand funding for development of fast, affordable tests, including point-of-care diagnostics, and treatments and vaccines that can be scaled quickly.
Bill Gates previously pledged to help support construction of separate factories for seven promising vaccine candidates, even though many of them might never be used. But unless the facilities are already in place, production of any successful vaccine will be delayed, Gates wrote in an op-ed in The Washington Post.
Wednesday’s announcement said the foundation is “committed to working with governments, CEPI (Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations), and the private sector to help provide financing for the at-risk enhancement of vaccine manufacturing capacity.”
The foundation has also committed $5 million to coronavirus response in the Seattle area, with funding for surveillance, emergency housing and community organizations working with the homeless.
Researchers at the University of Washington got $9.5 million from the Gates-funded COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator for a clinical trial to find out if the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine can protect people from infection with the novel coronavirus.