The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has the largest endowment of any charity on the planet, with more than $40 billion available at its disposal to help tackle poverty and public health crises around the world. But as of today, that foundation will focus its “total attention” on defeating the COVID-19 pandemic. Gates made that announcement in an interview with the Financial Times:
We’ve taken an organization that was focused on HIV and malaria and polio eradication, and almost entirely shifted it to work on this. This has the foundation’s total attention. Even our non-health related work, like higher education and K-12 [schools], is completely switched around to look at how you facilitate online learning.
The reason for the foundation’s shift has as much to do with the public health implications of the disease as it does with the economic consequences. Gates told the Financial Times that he fears the pandemic will cost the world economy tens of trillions of dollars in the years to come. “We’re definitely in the tens [of trillions], which blows the mind,” he said. “If you’d asked me six months ago, I wouldn’t have thought that was possible.”
The quicker solutions to tackling the spread of the disease—or better, a vaccine—can be found, the sooner the economic consequences can be abated. But there is some bad news as a result of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation turning “total attention” to fighting COVID-19: Other critical areas the foundation traditionally supports will suffer, including work in eradicating polio and finding new AIDS drugs. “This emergency has distracted a lot of critical work in many, many areas,” Gates admitted.
Given his foundation’s 20 years of work in fighting public health threats, it’s only natural that Gates has been the most prominent non-governmental figure to speak out about the crisis on a regular basis—including about not only how to tackle it but predicting it years ago. Yet the billionaire philanthropist’s attention to the disease has made him a target of conspiracy theorists. Most recently by Alex Jones who is trying to make “arrest Bill Gates” the new “lock her up.”
Alex Jones leads protesters in a chant of "Arrest Bill Gates" at a protest in Austin, Texas today. pic.twitter.com/FtAR199Wl2
— Travis View (@travis_view) April 26, 2020
But Gates told the Financial Times that blowback to his high-profile involvement is only to be expected. “It is weird,” he admitted. “This whole thing is so awful, and the notion that anybody’s getting positive visibility for it seems very paradoxical.”
Update: A spokesperson from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation reached out to us with the following comment after this article was first published.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation remains committed to its core areas of focus including reducing infectious disease, eliminating extreme poverty, and improving U.S. public education. The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting all areas of our work and the ripple effects will be felt for years to come. While we’ve announced $250 million in funding to date and a commitment to leverage our Strategic Investment Fund toward the pandemic, we are increasingly focusing the expertise of our staff and leveraging our partnerships toward the urgent efforts needed to end this pandemic. These are unprecedented times, but our belief that all lives have equal value and our commitment to addressing inequities across all of our work remains more critical than ever.