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GZERO Media Town Hall: Could our response to COVID help end poverty?

GZERO Media, in partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Eurasia Group, today hosted its first virtual town hall on how to fight global poverty amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The panel featured Gates Foundation CEO Mark Suzman, Eurasia Group and GZERO Media President Ian Bremmer, and Vera Songwe, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. The conversation was moderated by Africa No Filter's Moky Makura.

Watch the full video above.


Has the pandemic strengthened or weakened multilateral organizations?

Songwe:

  • It has reinforced and strengthened them, not weakened them, by creating space for larger collaborative platforms. At the UN, we are bringing in some of the leading economists and think tanks in the world to think about how we can respond to this crisis differently. Questions about inclusion and participation are already starting to come to the table, as the UN's open platform brings in civil society voices on this subject. The World Health Organization has been a shining light, guiding us in terms of the scientific evidence, while other institutions, like the Centers for Disease Control in Africa and elsewhere, have been particularly important.
  • But resources are slim. We need to shore these multilateral institutions with more professional and scientific staff, as well as more financing for the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, so they can respond in a timely manner to the economic aspect of this crisis.

How do we ensure that if a COVID-19 vaccine is developed, it can reach every corner of the globe?

Suzman:

  • Let polio be an example. Last week, Africa was officially declared polio-free by the WHO, meaning the only parts of the world that still have the disease are Afghanistan and Pakistan. That shows you what can be done, even in very challenging logistical environments. The world knows how to do it. GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, has probably saved more lives in the last 20 years than any collaborative effort in human history. I'm relatively optimistic. It is challenging, but we know how to do it. We have the constructs, we have the supply chains, we have the health systems.
  • What we don't have is the money and resources to be able to procure at scale in sufficient volume. What is equitable distribution and how do you do it rapidly at a time when so many individual countries may try to lock up supply for their own citizens. It's an understandable impulse, but there's a risk that this kind of "vaccine nationalism" actually sets the world back.

Should low- and middle-income countries be entitled to debt relief amid the pandemic?

Bremmer:

  • Sure, but under what conditions? Austerity-based reforms that Western economists believe will create more sustainable long-term growth can cause enormous hardship for populations that you don't really want to hurt. Loans are also often attached to political reforms — and that's where China is going to be critical to the debt relief equation, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, where Beijing isn't going to demand the same kind of economic or political liberalization in exchange for support. Frequently the Chinese conditions are much more opaque, sometimes beholding these countries to China's economic and political interests, which may not be good for either the world or these countries' populations.
  • I think we have to worry that as the global order is fragmenting, especially as the US and China are at much greater odds with each other. We could well be fighting over conditionality and debt for some of the most vulnerable countries, and that's something that we're going to have to pay attention to.
Stay tuned for future GZERO Media Town Halls.


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