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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How will the pause of Johnson & Johnson vaccine affect the overall pandemic fight in the United States?

Yeah. Right at it, right? Well, we heard that the FDA has suspended vaccines from J&J because of blood clots. They found six in seven million cases. It's kind of like the suspension of AstraZeneca in Europe. It's likely only going to last for a few days. It's a very small percentage of the total number of vaccines that are being jabbed right now into the arms of Americans. It's not going to really slow America's ability to get everyone vaccinated, but it is going to create more vaccine hesitancy. People at the margins will say, "Is this safe? They said it was fine. Now they're saying it's not okay." I understand why there's enormous caution on the part of the FDA, but I wish, wish, wish the communications had been a little softer around all of this. Also will be a problem in terms of export, as J&J is going to be a piece of that. And again, others around the world will say, "Well, if I don't get Moderna, if I don't get Pfizer, I'm not sure I want to take it at all." So all of this is negative news, though I would still say the United States this year is looking really, really good among major economies in dealing with pandemic.

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Watch the episode: Vaccine nationalism could prolong the pandemic

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi everybody. Ian Bremmer here. Welcome to your week and I've got your Quick Take and thought I would talk a little bit about where we are with Iran. One of the Biden administration's promises upon election was to get the Americans back into the JCPOA, the Iranian nuclear deal. As of last week, negotiations are formally restarted, and pretty quickly, in Vienna, they're not direct. The Americans and Iranians are both there, but they're being intermediated by the Europeans because they're not yet ready to show that they can talk directly to each other. That's Iran being cautious in the run-up to their presidential election coming this summer. But the movement is there. So far the talk has largely been about sequencing the Iranian government, saying that all of the sanctions need to be removed before they're willing to go back into the deal, because the Americans after all, unilaterally withdrew from a deal that the Iranians were indeed adhering to, and the inspections did confirm that.

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