Closing The Gap

Melinda Gates on US response to pandemic caregiving crisis: 'I'm disappointed in what I've been seeing'

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As the coronavirus pandemic continues to impact the world, billionaire philanthropist Melinda Gates is sharing her thoughts around the United States' response to the crisis. 

"I'm surprised we weren't better prepared, but quite honestly I'm surprised we wasted so much time," Gates told Savannah Guthrie on NBC's "TODAY" show after mentioning that her husband warned of a pandemic in 2015.

Gates continued by saying, "we haven't had leadership at the national level to get out tests in the right way, protective gear in the right way, contact tracing in the right way." As a result, she says, "I'm disappointed in what I've been seeing," as far as the Trump administration's response. 

NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 12: Bill and Melinda Gates in the CBS Toyota Greenroom before their appearance on CBS THIS MORNING, Feb 12, 2019. (Photo by Michele Crowe/CBS via Getty Images)
CBS Photo Archive | CBS | Getty Images

So far, Gates and her husband, Bill, have committed more than $300 million to help with finding treatments and a vaccine for the virus. Though some reports have been optimistic about a vaccine being ready by January, Gates says it's likely that it will take "12-18 months" before a treatment is good to go. 

Gates, who has been a long-standing advocate of gender equality, also criticized the government for turning a blind eye to the caregiving crisis the pandemic is causing.

"If we're going to look at re-opening our economy, we have to take care of our most essential workers," she says. "Eighty-five percent of nurses are women. And yet, who is the primary caregiver at home? Women. Who is the primary one for educating the kids? Women."

She explains that when caregiving disproportionately falls on women, it makes it hard for them to do their jobs, leading to a loss of income for some women who end up taking a break from work or leaving the workforce altogether. To alleviate this burden, she says, Congress needs to "start looking at a paid family medical leave policy." Right now, she says, the U.S. is the only industrialized nation without one. 

"We've always had this false narrative of 'this is expensive so we're not going to do it,'" she says, in regards to the government approving paid family leave for everyone. "This is already costing us. It is costing us our health and you have to address this piece if you want to have health-care workers, nurses out there, 85% of whom are women, caring for us in the right way."

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