The knock-on effects of the coronavirus pandemic have halted and reversed global health progress, setting it back 25 years and exposing millions to the risk of deadly disease and poverty, a report by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation warned yesterday.
Because of Covid-19, extreme poverty has increased by 7%, and routine vaccine coverage - a good proxy measure for how health systems are functioning - is dropping to levels last seen in the 1990s, the report said.
"It's a huge setback," Bill Gates, co-chair of the Foundation and a leading philanthropic funder of global health and development, told a media briefing on the report's findings.
The Foundation's Goalkeepers report, which tracks progress on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of reducing poverty and improving health, found that in the past year, by nearly every indicator, the world has regressed.
Alongside dropping rates of routine immunisation, which the report described as "setting the world back about 25 years in 25 weeks", rising levels of poverty and economic damage from the pandemic are reinforcing inequalities, it said.
It found that the pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on women, racial and ethnic minority communities and people living in extreme poverty.
"After 20 consecutive years of declines in extreme poverty, we've now seen a reversal," said Mark Suzman, chief executive of the Gates Foundation, in an interview with Reuters. "We've had nearly 40 million people thrown back into extreme poverty. That's well over a million a week since the virus hit."
Meanwhile, at least 17 members of the Indian parliament have tested positive for the coronavirus, government officials said yestreday, underlining the widening spread of infections set to cross five million cases soon.
The lawmakers were screened ahead of the re-opening of parliament on Monday after six months. MPs cleared by the tests wore masks, occupied seats with glass enclosures and worked for truncated hours.
Twelve of the 17 infected MPs were from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, according to a government official who had a list of the lawmakers. All 17 were members of the 545-member lower house of parliament.
India appeared to be on course to cross the milestone of 5 million cases today, as its tally of 4.93 million is just 70,000 short.
Australia yesterday recorded its first day without a Covid-19 death in two months, as states began to lift restrictions amid growing confidence that a second wave of infections has been contained.
Officials said there were 50 cases in the past 24 hours, a small increase from a day earlier.