President Moon Jae-in spoke on the phone with Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft and Co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, for 25 minutes from 10:00 a.m. today. Their telephone conversation was arranged at the suggestion of the Co-chair.
President Moon began by saying, “I was told that you are recently working from home in compliance with the stay-at-home order from the State of Washington. I am glad to talk to you for the first time, albeit by phone, and am grateful for you suggesting this call.”
Co-chair Gates said that he had hoped to meet with the President in person to thank him for his efforts to overcome the COVID-19 outbreak. He added that Korea is setting an example for the world by bringing the outbreak under manageable control.
The Co-chair went on to say that the President has demonstrated leadership, adding that he himself will also learn from Korea’s responses.
President Moon said, “I am deeply grateful to you for giving high marks to Korea’s COVID-19 responses on many occasions.” He went on to explain, “The Korean Government has been proactively responding to the COVID-19 outbreak from its early stage in accordance with the three principles of openness, transparency and democracy. We are also minimizing restrictions on the movements of people and goods as recommended by the World Health Organization.” The President added, “Fortunately, the number of new confirmed cases has fallen below 30 today, but we are continuing a social distancing campaign because now is not the time to be complacent.”
The President continued, “The Korean Government donated to the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (Gavi), the first in Asia to do so. Starting this year, we are planning on making contributions to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) as well.” He added, “I understand that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is also sponsoring the International Vaccine Institute (IVI) headquartered in Seoul and other international organizations and also jointly investing in the Right Fund with the Korean Government.”
Co-chair Gates expressed his gratitude to the President for bringing up such diverse organizations, saying that he was very pleased with Korea’s contributions. He went on to express the hope that those organizations would play pivotal roles in promoting global healthcare and overcoming the COVID-19 outbreak.
Gavi is a public-private partnership established in 2000 with the aim of developing and distributing vaccines as well as supporting developing countries. As a founding partner, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has been contributing more than US$300 million a year to Gavi, with the total reaching US$4.1 billion to date. The Korean Government has also continued to increase its contributions since it joined as a donor country in 2010 and will have donated US$15 million from 2019 through 2021.
CEPI was established in 2017 to support research into the development of vaccines against infectious diseases, and at the time of its launch, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation promised to donate US$100 million over five years. The Korean Government and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are the largest contributors to IVI’s R&D and vaccine distribution costs. IVI is now pushing ahead with the development of a vaccine for COVID-19 through a consortium comprising business, academia and research institutes.
Launched in July last year, the Right Fund was jointly financed by the Ministry of Health and Welfare of Korea, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and a Korean bioscience company. Among its total funds of 50 billion won, the Korean Government contributed 25 billion won and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation 12.5 billion won. With regard to the Right Fund, Co-chair Gates said that he plans to more than double its growth this year.
The Co-chair went on to say that IVI, together with a number of experts, is developing a vaccine effective against COVID-19 and emphasized the importance of vaccine development overall.
Co-chair Gates said he is worried that a very significant number of COVID-19-related deaths could occur in developing countries going forward as these countries have lesser developed healthcare systems and are not well prepared for social distancing. He added that he is very grateful to the Korean Government for cooperating with Gavi.
President Moon replied, “I entirely agree with the Co-chair’s prediction, and our Government is also providing humanitarian aid to vulnerable countries because we are concerned about the COVID-19 situation in developing countries. Among other things, there are considerable requests for Korea-made diagnostic kits, so we are actively exploring ways to provide as much assistance as possible.”
President Moon also said, “I am looking forward to further expanding cooperation with the Foundation in developing and supplying vaccines and providing humanitarian aid for countries vulnerable to infectious diseases.”
Co-chair Gates said he was very grateful and expressed his respect to Korea for providing diagnostic kits to developing countries.
The Co-chair also said that the fact that Korea is supplying diagnostic kits to many countries is itself proof of its success in responding to the COVID-19 outbreak.
President Moon and Co-chair Gates agreed to strengthen cooperation in developing not only a COVID-19 vaccine but also related treatments.
The President said, “I believe that the efforts to develop treatments are no less important than those to develop a vaccine. In Korea, a number of research institutions and pharmaceutical companies are endeavoring to develop treatments with strong support from the Government.”
President Moon went on to say, “Korea has secured considerable data, including on blood plasma from fully recovered patients. Cooperation is also needed to develop and supply treatments.”
Co-chair Gates expressed his full agreement, adding that it seems treatments can be developed faster than a vaccine and hence could reduce the number of deaths and also alleviate medical professionals’ tremendous workload.
The Co-chair continued that he had looked into Korea’s progress in developing a vaccine and treatments before their phone conversation. He said he is looking forward to accelerating development of not only a vaccine but also treatments through cooperation with Korea.
President Moon and Co-chair Gates concluded their conversation by agreeing to expand cooperation on developing a COVID-19 vaccine and treatments and maintain close communication as key partners in the response to the outbreak.