Lurdes de Sousa

If there is one word that Macau residents and the rest of China have been hearing endlessly these days, it must be this one. This epidemic has significantly affected more or less all aspects of our lives for the past several weeks. This epidemic is like others we have seen before. These new epidemics pop-up like mushrooms in many parts of the world, you name them: SARS, bird flu, Ebola, Zika… They are all tragic, as they claim lives and have immediate effects on national budgets and the world economic forecast. With dense cities and convenient travel, they spread faster and further than ever before. We know it. And tomorrow another one will appear. Why? Because we don’t plan, we react.
Not much has been said about the reinvention of philanthropy, and how modern philanthropy could be reimagined and innovated for the common good. This sad occurrence is a perfect lesson in how concrete and needed philanthropy will be in the years to come.
Last week at Davos, a global initiative to fight epidemics by the name of CEPI (Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations) was discussed. It is an initiative designed to shorten the response time to epidemics by creating vaccines that can be released quickly once an outbreak occurs. “What CEPI does is take the things that we do in battle and do them in peacetime,” explained the CEO of GlaxoSmithKline, one of the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies.
It’s a real challenge; a “market failure,” economists would say. Getting vaccines to the stage of preparation where they can be used quickly and effectively sounds like science fiction. It is a challenge not only because it requires sophisticated research, anticipation and innovation, but also because, aside from the technological and scientific challenges, other factors must be considered, such as liability, licenses, regulatory approvals, stockpiling etc. Whether CEPI will be able achieve its goal when confronted with these challenges is unknown, but what is already happening before our eyes is that the biggest challenge has already been overcome: a financing solution that has industry, governments and philanthropic institutions working together. $460 million in initial funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Wellcome Trust, the governments of Germany, Japan and Norway, and promises of $700 million in total for a program involving the global vaccine manufacturers is in itself an achievement. The war is not yet won, but the battle is.
Governments, we all know, tend to lack the immediate capacity to respond and accountability at the hands of tax payers for such an investment, if unsuccessful, can be a heavy political price to pay. On the other hand, getting the entire industry to converge and put aside competition and profit is not an easy step either.
“Capitalism is dead,” declared one speaker at Davos. Maybe not yet… but it sure is dying as a result of the pressing global challenges that are putting the very future of our societies at stake.
CEPI would not have been possible without the contributions of philanthropic institutions and individual wills, for philanthropy is the only actor that has enough flexibility in its decision-making processes to take the lead. Let’s hope that CEPI will be successful and that more philanthropists from around the world, and Asia in particular, will join a battle in a time of peace. Lurdes de Sousa

*President, Associação Internacional
de Filantropia (Macau)
國際博愛協會 (澳門)

Macau Daily Times is the official media partner of the Associação Internacional de Filantropia (Macau).

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