The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation pledged Wednesday to commit up to $100 million for the global response to the novel coronavirus epidemic that has claimed nearly 500 lives and struck 12 people in the US.
The funding will be used to strengthen detection, isolation and treatment efforts, the foundation said, including protecting at-risk populations and developing vaccines and diagnostics.
About $20 million of the funds will be allocated to governmental and international agencies like the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and its Chinese analogues.
Some $60 million is designated for vaccine, treatment and diagnostic development, and $20 million will be contributed to nations in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia that have been particularly hard-hit by disease outbreaks.
Earlier this week, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) notified Congress it would likely need to transfer an additional $136 million to fight the coronavirus outbreak as US health agencies quickly burned through the $105 million allocated to them for emergencies like the ongoing one.
‘Multilateral organizations, national governments, the private sector and philanthropies must work together to slow the pace of the outbreak, help countries protect their most vulnerable citizens and accelerate the development of the tools to bring this epidemic under control,’ said Gates Foundation CEO Mark Suzman.
The amount includes $10 million previously pledged in late January.
It comes as governmental agencies around the globe are ramping up efforts at prevention, containment, diagnostics, treatments and vaccines.
WHO representatives have praised the expedient response of China, and Americans surveyed by PBS, NPR and Maris said they felt reassured by the US’s efforts to contain the outbreak.
But those swift and comprehensive measures are costly.
The 2003 outbreak of another severe coronavirus, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), stemming from China, cost the world an estimated $40 billion in the span of just six months.
In those days, China contributed a significantly less to the global economy than it now does.
And because the current coronavirus outbreak – temporarily dubbed 2019-nCoV – has spread so much more quickly, US officials are preparing for a potentially long haul battling the virus.
Not only does combating the outbreak drain governmental resources, the spread of the virus to 27 countries and territories outside China has strained the global economy.
Stocks tumbled as the case numbers surged last week.
Some economists have even have even suggested that the outbreak could be a ‘black swan event’ – an unpredictable occurrence with wide ripples and potentially financially devastating consequences.
And every component of confronting a new disease is jaw-droppingly expensive.
Vaccine development and production alone, for example, is estimated to cost somewhere in the range of $200 million to $2.1 billion, depending on the particular shot.
In addition to the $60 million in funding the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation says it’s willing to commit to ‘accelerating’ vaccine, diagnostic and treatment work, the philanthropic institution said it would ‘use its R&D funding to help global partners, such as the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, identify and prioritize research needs, address gaps in the R&D landscape, incentivize product development by biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies and ensure that resulting products are safe, effective and made widely available.’
It also said that the money it’s committing to help the US deal with the outbreak should shorten the timeline of funding necessary containment efforts while ‘international agencies and national governments appropriate the resources necessary to fund ongoing operations.’