A new report paints a bleak picture of the far-ranging impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, with a major backsliding in the percentage of children around the world getting essential vaccinations, food insecurity on the rise, and a sharp increase in the number of people living in extreme poverty.
The first six months of the pandemic saw the number of people living in extreme poverty around the globe rise by 7%, after declining year after year for the past two decades.
“That one is super worrying,” billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates said of the extreme poverty trend, one of more than a dozen metrics for global development assessed in the 2020 issue of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Goalkeepers report.
The annual report evaluates progress toward what are known as the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, adopted in 2015. The 17 SDG are effectively a global pledge to improve life for all people on the planet by 2030 through a range of measures such as increasing the percentage of children who are vaccinated, providing clean water and sanitation, reducing inequality, and ending hunger.
The Gates Foundation typically likes to accentuate the positive, focusing on progress that is being made. To date, the Goalkeepers reports have been cast in that vein.
But this year’s records a world that is losing ground because of a pandemic that is projected to cost the world $12 trillion in economic losses by the end of 2021.
In the United States, the pain caused by the pandemic has been inequitably distributed, with people in high-paying jobs actually saving money while people at the other end of the economic spectrum are having trouble paying rent and keeping food on the table.
That disparity is evident around the world, Gates said. “Almost every axis of inequity — racial, type of job, size of house, quality of internet connection — on every one of those dimensions, those who are better off have had less of a problem during the pandemic.”
Progress on most of the global development metrics has been reversed in 2020. And the world, the report projects, is now perhaps irretrievably off-course to hit most of the goals by 2030.
The report pointed to vaccine coverage as a good proxy for how well health systems are functioning during the pandemic. It noted that an evaluation, conducted by the foundation’s data partner, the Seattle-based Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, found that in 2020 vaccination coverage is at levels last seen in the 1990s.
The report’s stark appraisal: “In other words, we’ve been set back about 25 years in about 25 weeks.”
Normally data on which to assess what is happening in a given year are not available until the following year. But, for this report, IHME attempted to generate real-time information. Still, Gates said, some of the impacts of the pandemic are hard to quantify.
“The loss of education that’s taken place and continues to take place — you know, that’s a terrible thing and does not bode well for the future because that’s such a key investment,” he said. “The kind of suffering that’s been created when you’re uncertain about where you’re going to get your food. The mental health impacts of all the restrictions that have been put in place — that’s another one that’s very difficult to measure.”
The report argues that the global economic and societal damage being caused by the pandemic can be mitigated by a global commitment to equitably share Covid-19 vaccines, when they become available. It cited research from Northeastern University that suggested half as many people would die from Covid-19 if the first 2 billion doses of vaccine that become available are equitably shared, rather than snapped up by rich countries.
“Every single month, the global economy loses $500 billion, and a collaborative approach will shave many months off of the world’s timeline,” it said. “There is no such thing as a national solution to a global crisis.”
Gates suggested the impact on health care delivery systems can be rectified in the near-term, but the economic damage to developing economies will take much longer to repair.
“I’d say a year from now, we hope we’re getting things restored and that two years from now we can be back — at least in terms of the health situation — back where we were at the start of 2020,” he said.
“But what that requires is that we approve a highly effective vaccine sometime in the next four or five months and that we figure out how to manufacture many billions of doses and get the financing and get it out in a very strong way, so that the pandemic itself is going down during 2021 and can be brought to an end sometime in 2022,” Gates said. “I think that’s possible. But, you know, we still don’t have that vaccine. We don’t have that manufacturing. We don’t have that financing. But we’re working on those things. And I’m hopeful that all that will come together.”