UN Sustainable Development Goals

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s 2020 Goalkeepers Report, COVID-19, A Global Perspective is a Reminder of the Critical Importance of Global Collaboration

In its annual report on progress on various UN Sustainable Development Goals (“SDGs”) released on September 15, 2020, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation calls out the reversal in trends on many sustainable development goals caused by the world’s effort to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and provides a strong call for collaboration and cooperation among governments and the private sector to address the pandemic and ensure global access to therapeutics and vaccines on an equitable and affordable basis. The report is an important document that should help governments, international organizations, business associations and other NGOs focus on the pending challenges/risks and potential forward movements that are achievable. One of the stunning statements from Bill and Melinda Gates in recent interviews is that availability of vaccines has been set back twenty-five years in the past twenty-five weeks. See Business Insider, September 15, 2020, Bill Gates says the pandemic wiped out 25 years of vaccine progress in 25 weeks, https://www.businessinsider.com/bill-gates-pandemic-wiped-out-25-years-progress-vaccines-2020-9. The link to the Gates Foundation report is here, https://www.gatesfoundation.org/goalkeepers/report/2020-report/#GlobalPerspective.

While the bulk of the report does not directly deal with trade, trade is certainly an important element in global collaborative efforts needed to help with the recovery from the pandemic — whether it is movement of medical goods including therapeutics and vaccines as they get developed, movement of agricultural goods, restoration of services critical for many economies – like travel and tourism, trade facilitation efforts, aid for trade, trade finance, development of rules on digital trade and more.

The report reviews the series of catastrophes flowing from the pandemic. On the economic catastrophe, the report references information from the International Monetary Fund that projects that the global economy will contract by some $12 trillion by the end of 2021 despite some $18 trillion in stimulus spending by governments to reduce the economic impact of the pandemic. “The last time this many countries were in recession at once was in 1870, literally two lifetimes ago.” (Page 7) The report notes that the ability of many countries to provide economic backstops to their economies is quite limited regardless of their economic growth in recent years or effectiveness of management of their governments. Thus, stimulus funding by G20 countries has averaged about 22% of GDP compared to just 3% for countries in sub-Suharan African countries. (Page 8)

The results of the economic impact from the pandemic has been a 7.1 percent increase in the number of people living in extreme poverty in just a few months after some twenty years of progress in reducing those numbers. The rising number of people in poverty are more likely to be women than men reflecting both women’s heavy participation in the informal sector and their handling of such a huge portion of unpaid care work. (Pages 9-10)

The report has a section entitled, “Innovating with Equity in Mind” on pages 14-17 which reviews the need to get the virus under control.

“To get it under control, to end the pandemic, the world should collaborate on three tasks as quickly as possible:

“1. Develop diagnostics and treatments to manage the pandemic in the short term and vaccines to end it in the medium term.

“2. Manufacture as many tests and doses as we can, as fast as we can.

“3. Deliver these tools equitably to those who need them most, no matter where they live or how much money they have.” (Page 14)

The report reviews the low percentage of vaccine candidates that historically have proven successful which supports the need for many candidates to be supported. The report also notes that even with the funding provided by some governments, there is a severe shortage of manufacturing capacity at the present time meaning a likely “longer pandemic, more deaths and a longer global recession.” (Page 15) The report includes the results of a model run by Northeastern University which looks at likely changes in the number of deaths if 2/3rds of vaccine doses are taken by high-income countries compared to the situation where vaccine doses are distributed to all countries based on population. The model’s projection is that a much higher proportion of deaths would be averted where there is equitable distribution of vaccine doses (61% of deaths averted) than if the high income countries take two-thirds of vaccines (33% of death averted). (Page 16)

The report notes that the costs of achieving equitable and affordable distribution of vaccines are high but tiny in comparison to the economic costs to the global economy.

“To be clear, funding these organizations and other key partners adequately will cost a lot of money — but not compared to the cost of a festering pandemic. Every single month, the global economy loses US$500 billion, and a collaborative approach will shave many months off of the world’s timeline. Countries have already committed US$18 trillion to economic stimulus to treat the symptoms of the pandemic. Now they need to invest a small portion of that total to root out its cause.” (Page 17)

The remainder of the report looks at projections for a series of sustainable development goals (SDGs) and particular elements of individual SDGs. The projections provide best case, worst case and a reference scenario as well as showing the 2030 target within the UN SDGs. Elements looked at include poverty, stunting, agriculture, maternal mortality, neonatal mortality, HIV, tuberculosis, malaria, neglected tropical diseases, family planing, universal health coverage, smoking, vaccines, education, gender equality, sanitation, and financial services for the poor. (Pages 21-45) For nearly all of these issues, progress went from positive to negative in 2020 and the projections typically show even the optimistic scenario as being far off of the 2030 UN SDG target following the pandemic.

Conclusion

The 2020 Goalkeepers Report makes a convincing case that the extraordinary costs of the COVID-19 pandemic have harmed all countries and have generated greater inequality among countries and worsened the outlook for global reforms agreed to by nearly all nations in 2015. The end of the Introduction explains the need for a collaborative response and the costs of not pursuing one:

“There is no such thing as a national solution to a global crisis. All countries must work together to end the pandemic and begin rebuilding economies. The longer it takes us to realize that, the longer it will take (and the more it will cost) to get back on our feet.”

Hopefully the world is listening.