Bill Gates grills Germany over late reaction to Ebola

Bill Gates administers polio drops to a child in Chad. [Gates Foundation/Flickr]

Bill Gates administers polio drops to a child in Chad. [Gates Foundation/Flickr]

During a visit with Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, multi-billionaire Bill Gates accused Germany and other western countries of having reacted too late in the fight against Ebola, calling on the German government to contribute more money for vaccinations. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Microsoft-founder Bill Gates criticised the international community in its fight against Ebola during a visit to Berlin on Tuesday (11 November). Along with other western countries, Germany reacted to the outbreak of the epidemic far too late, he said.

“Ebola is a lesson to us (about) how important health is. The epidemic could have been stopped earlier,” Gates commented during a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on Tuesday.

But Gates said he sees a turnaround in the fight against Ebola: aid organisations and western states have successfully joined forces and made progress. “We are finally seeing results. We can put an end to the epidemic,” he predicted.

In the future, the Microsoft-founder said, western governments should promote research on vaccines and early warning systems in developing countries. This is the only way to stop potentially more serious outbreaks in the future, Gates explained.

The spread of Ebola is an example of the fact that the fight against it not only benefits developing countries, he continued, adding, “almost overnight health, crises can reach a global scale”.

Speaking with Merkel, Gates also called for more funds to be allocated for vaccinations.

The German Chancellor recently spearheaded a donor conference for the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) planned to take place in January 2015. Bill Gates, along with his own Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is a co-initiator of the public-private partnership.

The GAVI Alliance hopes to improve access to vaccines against preventable, life-threatening diseases. By negotiating lower prices with the pharmaceutical industry, GAVI hopes to be able to send massive shipments of vaccines to developing countries. Since its creation in 2000, the GAVI Alliance has vaccinated around 440 million children in poor countries.

But GAVI said it needs $7.5 billion to continue its efforts by vaccinating an additional 300 million children and thereby saving 6 million children by the year 2020. The “replenishment conference” in Berlin is meant to secure financing from 2016 to 2020.

Gates: “Germany should be a leader”

As host of the conference, Germany should set a good example, Gates said. “Germany’s economic strength, its technical know-how and its global influence give it the ability to motivate other countries to do good.”

In January, larger countries “should make considerable financial commitments”, Gates emphasised.

The development organisation ONE, along with other NGOs, are calling on the German government to increase its commitments for GAVI to €100 million annually. In light of the country’s economic strength, this is only appropriate, the NGOs said.

Actress Maria Furtwängler, an ambassador for ONE said, “Every year in poor countries, 1.5 million children die of diseases that can be prevented by vaccination. It is unacceptable that the place where someone lives, determines whether or not their children can grow up healthy.”

After a meeting with Gates, Germany’s Minister of Development Gerd Müller only slightly agreed to accommodate ONE’s demands.

Müller announced his intention to increase funding to €40 million annually by 2020 – assuming the German Bundestag agrees to the plan.

This year, the initiative is backed by €38 million in the budget. In 2013, the government only committed to contributing €30 million.

Within the financing period from 2011 to 2015, the Gates Foundation and the United Kingdom turned out to be the largest contributors. Germany is only ranked in 11th place.

GAVI reform calls for “Doctors without Borders”

But the GAVI conference should not be about money, explained the German branch of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in a statement for

“We welcome Mr. Müller’s pledge. But the financial resources are not enough to give all children in the world vaccinations,” indicated MSF analyst Phillipp Frisch.

The Development Minister should also spearhead reforms within GAVI, so that the money can be spent even more effectively, Frisch said.

>> Read: EU more than doubles vaccine aid as Gavi launches appeal

According to Frisch, the alliance should ensure that countries have access to less-expensive vaccines, even if they are no longer approved under GAVI. The special price should also account to middle-income countries. In these countries the need for affordable vaccines is still very high. This also accounts for conflict-ridden states such as Syria, Frisch said.

From the start, MSF also indicated a common problem for NGOs in public private partnerships: “Civil society is currently only being inadequately considered in the GAVI Alliance. We should be given more of a voice in the talks – if not only to provide a noticeable counterweight to the pharmaceutical industry.”

Since 2000, 440 million children have been immunised against preventable diseases – and an estimated 6 million deaths have been avoided. But 22.6 million children are still not vaccinated and 1.5 million children under-5-years-old die annually from preventable diseases. Changing this picture may require action, not least on vaccine prices.

Every year immunisation helps avert an estimated 2.5 million deaths around the world, and millions more debilitating illnesses and disabilities. It is one of the most cost-effective health investments, with proven strategies that can reach the most dispersed and remote populations. 

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