Microsoft founder Bill Gates expects his foundation to work “almost entirely” on the coronavirus pandemic in the near future, the Financial Times reported. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has a $40 billion endowment, and has worked on HIV and malaria and polio eradication. But Gates said the foundation has shifted much of that focus to work on the coronavirus.
“This has the foundation’s total attention,” Gates told the FT. “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.” A Gates Foundation spokesperson said in a statement emailed to The Verge that the foundation “remains committed to its core areas of focus including reducing infectious disease, eliminating extreme poverty, and improving US public education.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting all areas of our work and the ripple effects will be felt for years to come,” according to the statement from the foundation. “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.”
The Gates Foundation already has pledged a total of $250 million “to support development of diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines; help strengthen African and South Asian health systems; and help mitigate the social and economic impacts of the virus.” The foundation is working with the World Health Organization and other health organizations around the world.
“This emergency has distracted a lot of critical work in many, many areas,” Gates said in the FT interview. “Fewer people able to show up for routine immunization or supply chains for immunization not working well, that’s hundreds of thousands of deaths right there. If we can’t keep getting malaria treatments out effectively, that’s a huge rebound in malaria.”
Earlier this month, Gates criticized President Trump’s plan to suspend funding for the WHO.
He said he believes the Trump administration will ultimately decide that WHO “probably should get more money, not less money.”
In 2015, Gates warned during a TED Talk that the world was not ready for a global pandemic.
Gates stepped down as Microsoft CEO in 2000, and left his full-time role at Microsoft in 2008 to focus on the foundation work. Oddly, during the pandemic Gates has become the top target of coronavirus misinformation.
UPDATE April 26th 7:10PM ET: Added statement from Gates Foundation.