(thenational)–Bill Gates has spoken out on the harmful effects of conspiracy theories and social media attacks on him personally that have flourished online since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Mr Gates was speaking at the launch of a report on how to get the 2015 UN’s Sustainable Development Goals back on track after progress was blown off course after the world went into lockdown. He said world leaders had to focus on how to restore focus on the universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030.
One of the big stumbling blocks will be to address the wave of false reports that have undermined the use of masks as barriers to infection as well specific efforts to blame deaths on Mr Gates. These theories claim he promoted the pandemic as a means of implanting microchips in people.
“I’m very surprised by the course of these conspiracy theories and of course the ones involving me are completely incorrect,” he said. “I hadn’t been a part of conspiracy theories up until this and it’s ironic because I talked about the risk of a pandemic in 2015.”
The Microsoft founder recounted how he made recommendations on how to prepare for new sources of infections and how it was unfortunate that most of those things weren’t done. One of the positive steps, which was backed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, was the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness (CEPI), which works to accelerate the development of vaccines against emerging infectious diseases. “A few were done, so now CEPI which our foundation and a number of governments now fund, including recently Saudi Arabia, it did some good work so we are now well prepared,” he said. “I hope the truth will get out and that people’s behaviour to protect themselves and others will be strong. It is novel that you have a pandemic and you have social media and somehow the true messages aren’t as titillating or as exciting as the conspiracy type message.”
Speaking of the recovery and its impact on the world’s poorest countries, Mr Gates said it was hard to track how a recovery would set in following the pandemic. He said that it could take a “decade plus” for the recovery in poverty rates to be complete.
“What we’re seeing is that even though the epidemic is hitting developing countries, the young ages there mean that death rates aren’t as high as in the richer countries,” he told The National. “But the disruption affects other activities so the disruption is pretty dramatic.”
According to the 2020 Gatekeepers’ report on the development goals, the crisis has thrust almost 37 million more people into extreme poverty. That number had been falling for 20 years in a row until the health crisis.
“People living just above the extreme poverty line who have fallen below it because of Covid-19 were obviously vulnerable despite not being officially poor,” it said. “In the short term, social-protection payments and emergency business loans – exactly the types of programmes being used in high-income countries – can keep people from becoming extremely poor or help the poor avoid destitution.
“However, the longer the pandemic lasts, the worse its economic scars will be. But we can help people as they recover. As Goalkeepers has emphasised year after year, investments in human capital [like health and education] are key to generating economic growth and creating resilient households that don’t just hover around the poverty line.”
The consequences for hunger and famine were also damaging to the promotion of progress. “It is important to note that, according to the United Nations, economic shocks will plunge between 83 and 132 million people into food insecurity,” the report said.
Education also faces severe challenges, even as the prospect of widespread adoption of digital platforms could increase access and opportunities. “Distance learning can help, but remote learning opportunities are also beyond the reach of many students. While we don’t have exact numbers of students accessing [education] tech, for instance, less than one-third of the population across Africa has access to broadband.”