Science | January 27, 2021 1:22 pm

5 Takeaways From Bill and Melinda Gates’s Annual Letter

A somewhat optimistic look at the world's fight against COVID-19, and what we all need to do next

Bill and Melinda Gates
Melinda Gates and Bill Gates speak during "One World: Together At Home" on April 18, 2020
Getty Images/Getty Images for Global Citizen

Turns out the world should have been listening to Bill Gates years before COVID-19 hit.

They can start now. This week Bill and Melinda Gates shared their 2021 Annual Letter, entitled “The Year Global Health Went Local.” It makes suggestions for fighting COVID and other diseases on a global scale and also highlights the work of their foundation, which 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.”

Their Foundation had to quickly pivot to fight coronavirus early last year. “Even though our foundation had been concerned about a pandemic scenario for a long time — especially after the Ebola epidemic in West Africa — we were shocked by how drastically COVID-19 has disrupted economies, jobs, education, and well-being around the world,” as they write.

A few highlights of the letter:

  • There is a cautious optimism here. “History will probably remember these last couple of months as the most painful point of the entire pandemic. But hope is on the horizon.” They paraphrase Winston Churchill, suggesting that in our COVID fight, we are at “the end of the beginning.”
  • The fight against COVID is a global effort — it’s stressed here as “global health” multiple times. “No one country or company could have achieved this alone. Funders around the world pooled resources, competitors shared research findings, and everyone involved had a head start thanks to many years of global investment in technologies that have helped unlock a new era in vaccine development. If the novel coronavirus had emerged in 2009 instead of 2019, the road to a vaccine would have been much longer.”
  • We should be looking ahead to the next coronavirus. “Stopping the next pandemic will require spending tens of billions of dollars per year — a big investment, but remember that the COVID-19 pandemic is estimated to cost the world $28 trillion. The world needs to spend billions to save trillions (and prevent millions of deaths).” 
  • The efforts to combat coronavirus shouldn’t stop at borders. “Melinda wrote that COVID-19 anywhere is a threat to health everywhere; the same is true of the next potential pandemic. The tools and systems created to stop pathogens in their tracks need to span the globe, including in low- and middle-income countries.”
  • There’s a bit of humor here! As the couple notes, “For the epidemiologists reading this, we bet no one is more surprised than you that we now live in a world where your colleague Anthony Fauci has graced the cover of InStyle magazine. “

The Gates suggest a number of initiatives to combat future pandemic scenarios, including mega-diagnostic platforms for mass testing, a global alert system featuring “infectious disease first responders” and a doubling of R&D investment of mRNA vaccines.