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Melinda Gates Touts Role of Women in Coronavirus Response, Also Notes Importance of Broadband Access in Coping

Emily McPhie

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Screeenshot of Melinda Gates during webinar

May 7, 2020 — Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and founder of Pivotal Ventures, said Thursday that Congress must focus on vulnerable populations in the next stimulus plan.

“We're seeing what's happening to people of color who are disproportionately affected,” Gates said.

Gates, speaking on a Politico webinar, put significant emphasis on the importance of women to the coronavirus response. She cited figures showing that women make up 85 percent of the nursing force and 65 percent of the primary care force, as well as being significantly more likely to leave their jobs if someone in their family became sick.

“We need to protect them and think about how they protect all the rest of us,” Gates said. “If you don’t do that, you’re not going to be able to get this economy back going and on cycle, and you’re going to keep seeing more and more of this disease spreading over time.”

Although the full effects of the pandemic on education are yet to be seen, Gates pointed to Ebola as a model. The countries most affected by the Ebola crisis saw increased teen pregnancy and fewer girls in school during the years following.

“If [the impact of COVID-19 on education] looks like Ebola, it's not going to be good,” Gates said. “And that's why this data is so important. We have to collect … sex and race disaggregated data so we know where to act and where to intervene with supplies and medicines and money. If we don't get the data, we won't actually know what's going on.”

The Foundation is exploring ways to “help low income students who don’t have access to broadband, who don’t yet have a computer in [their] home,” Gates said.

“Maybe they have those two things, but their teacher is struggling to figure out how to teach online because he or she’s never taught online before,” she added.

So far, the Gates Foundation has committed $300 million to the coronavirus response. Gates said she thought it was possible that they would need to contribute more.

“Bill and I are on this—not every other day, we are on this issue every single day, most hours of the day,” Gates said. “And the need is great.”

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