‘Challenge’ to maintain the world’s focus on global health after COVID-19: Bill Gates

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By Jennifer Rigby

LONDON, Sept. 13 (Reuters) – Asking the world to prioritize saving lives in the world’s poorest countries is becoming an increasing challenge in a world still shaken by the COVID-19 pandemic, the threat of climate change, rising energy costs and the war in Ukraine, according to Bill Gates.

The Microsoft co-founder turned philanthropist said it was a “paradox” that in the wake of a massive global health threat, funding to fight diseases like malaria and AIDS could plummet this year.

“I am very concerned… ironically, given the clearest indication of why infectious diseases are not a thing of the past, funding levels could actually fall,” Gates said in an interview with Reuters last week.

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He spoke ahead of the publication of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s annual Goalkeepers report, which tracks progress towards the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on reducing poverty and improving health.

The report finds that the pandemic has knocked the world off course on almost every indicator, and progress would need to be accelerated by a factor of five to meet the 2030 targets for things like reducing maternal mortality or ending malnutrition.

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“It’s hard to overestimate what a setback the pandemic has been and it’s hard to overestimate what a setback the war in Ukraine has been,” said Gates, pointing out that global health improved in most areas before 2019.

“It’s fair to say that saving lives in Africa and caring for the poorest countries, we will be challenged to keep that as a priority and not cut corners on those things,” he added.

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Gates has poured more of his own money into the foundation this year and it will increase its annual budget from $6 billion to $9 billion by 2026, but he said he was concerned about competing pressures on donor governments’ budgets.

However, Gates said there is still hope, especially in areas like food security, if the world invests in innovation. (Reporting by Jennifer Rigby; editing by Chizu Nomiyama)