The first time I wrote about global health, I was talking about the AIDS crisis in my hometown of South Africa. It was 1991, and as a journalist, I presented the experts’ gloomy predictions of a possible AIDS outbreak in a report published by the Johannesburg Star. The main reason for the pessimism was the lack of medical means to prevent and treat AIDS at that time.
Mark Sussman, CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, visits the H3D Laboratory at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, on February 7, 2020. Picture: Atria
Source: Gates Foundation
When SARS in 2002, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in 2012, Ebola in 2014 and Zika virus (Zika) in 2016, the world also had no vaccines and drugs to deal with. Today, the previously unknown coronavirus, COVID-19, has infected more than 100,000 people worldwide, and we still face the same challenges.
Any life-threatening disease is disturbing, especially without a cure. As we have seen in the new outbreak of coronary pneumonia, many countries have already incurred significant human, economic and social costs. The Gates Foundation is doing everything it can to help ease the burden of disease, especially for the world’s poorest people, who are often hardest hit by infectious diseases and are among the hardest to recover from the outbreak.
To that end, we are working with the Wellcome Trust and MasterCard to jointly contribute $125 million (including new and allocated funds) to strengthen our response to the new coronal pneumonia outbreak. The funds will be used to screen and accelerate the development of potential treatments for new coronary pneumonia and to prepare for subsequent mass production and global rollouts. The new collaboration, called the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator, will be crucial to the success and success of professional pharmaceutical companies.
The researchers work in the laboratory. Picture: Atria
Epidemics often pose enormous challenges to the world. To protect people, especially vulnerable groups, we need to find a solution to the problem — speed ingenrate drug development and slow the spread of the virus. The only way to treat a viral infection like neo-coronary pneumonia is to use antiviral drugs. However, since this area is still blank, we can only treat the different symptoms that occur, and can not deal with a variety of situations as thoroughly as antibiotics treat bacterial infections.
The spread of the neo-coronary pneumonia virus and similar viruses is rapid, but the development of vaccines and drugs has been relatively slow. To meet this challenge, private companies and charities can work together to help reduce the financial risks and technical barriers of biotech and pharmaceutical companies to develop antiviral drugs for new coronary pneumonia. We are very optimistic about the potential progress that this new approach could bring, because based on the experience we have gained in the past in the fight against other epidemics, such cooperation and coordination can often be effective. The best way to prevent infectious diseases is to get vaccinated. A typical example in this area is the Alliance for Innovation in Epidemiological Prevention (CEPI). The alliance was founded in 2017 by Germany, Japan, Norway, the Wellcome Foundation and the Gates Foundation, with the uk, Canada, Ethiopia, Australia, Belgium and the European Commission joining. The alliance’s mission is to significantly reduce the time required to develop vaccines for new infectious diseases and to ensure that vaccines are rolled out at fair and affordable prices. Recently, some companies have been able to quickly launch vaccine development for new coronary pneumonia, in part because of the strong support and funding of CEPI.
How to deal with the new coronavirus in research and development work. Photo: Gates Foundation website
Today, our ultimate goal in launching the New Coronary Pneumonia Treatment Accelerator is to accelerate global research and development responses to emerging infectious diseases, just as we did when CEPI was created. This requires urgent action by governments, private companies and charities to fund and support innovative activities for rapid research and development, mass production and drug delivery.
As Mr. Bill Gates points out in a signed article in the New England Journal of Medicine, countries should also strengthen primary health-care systems to monitor disease trends and provide early warning. The world also needs to invest in disease surveillance, including the establishment of a database of cases that can be accessed immediately by relevant agencies.
Mark Sussman reports on AIDS in the Johannesburg Star in 1991. Photo: Gates Foundation website
Working as a reporter for the Johannesburg Star was my first job in the media industry, and I was proud of the report on AIDS at the time, and I still keep that newspaper. I clearly remember that the title of the article was “The Ghost of AIDS Must Be Addressed”. For a variety of reasons, however, no action has been taken (globally) for a long time. It would be inexcusable if we had made the same mistake in dealing with the outbreak of new coronary pneumonia. I am fortunate to lead the Gates Foundation and use its financial, technical experience, expertise, and appeal to work tirelessly to combat the outbreak. We also urgently call on all sectors of the world to work together to take urgent action to control the spread of the epidemic at an early date.