Annual Report 2020.

How We Pivoted in 2020

In 2020, our lives, communities and economies were upset in ways beyond what we could have imagined. Public health, normally an invisible web of protections, was thrust onto center stage daily.

At the start of the year, even before the virus had a name, Vital Strategies saw the pandemic that lay ahead. We knew we could not sit on the sidelines and had to harness our expertise and our global relationships with governments and partners around the world to help. We immediately positioned ourselves as “honest brokers” of the evolving science and risks, and we played a significant role in communicating about the pandemic via the media and our website and informing our partners as well. We also provided rapid response funds to 21 countries in those early days, and over the course of the year provided resources and technical assistance to 53 countries in Africa, Asia and the Americas.

At the same time, we knew that the pandemic made our other areas of work in noncommunicable diseases, overdose and injuries even more important. With the crisis dominating the news and overwhelming health systems, preventive measures for NCDs—such as cancer, heart disease, lung disease and diabetes—were being ignored, exacerbating the effects of the pandemic itself.

We forged ahead, making the case for why, even during the emergency response, we could not lose focus or lose ground on critical health issues such as tobacco control, air quality and food policies—all central drivers of noncommunicable diseases. We stressed the necessity of reducing the inequities created by poverty and racism, and their connection to these diseases and to overdose, all contributing to excess illness and death.

For this year’s annual report, we have created a timeline of 2020’s dramatic events together with a timeline of Vital Strategies’ actions and accomplishments. It is an opportunity to see behind the headlines to see the role of public health during the most severe pandemic the world had faced in more than a century.


Making clean air a priority for cities.

The growing COVID-19 crisis increases the urgency for Vital Strategies’ environmental action guide, since chronic exposure to air pollution can increase the severity of coronavirus complications. Vital releases “Accelerating City Progress on Clean Air: Innovation and Action Guide” to promote stepwise, context-specific actions cities can take to rapidly improve air quality. “Improving air quality in Jakarta is a priority made even more urgent by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan. “We are proud to partner with Bloomberg Philanthropies and Vital Strategies to make clean air a priority for the people of Jakarta.”


Learn more about air pollution and COVID-19 in this Q&A with Dan Kass, Senior Vice President, Environmental Health.

“The next pandemic is coming. We’re not prepared for it, writes Tom Frieden in the Washington Post.

Resolve to Save Lives President and CEO Tom Frieden sounds the coronavirus alarm in his Washington Post op-ed, writing about the consequences of being underprepared for the next big global epidemic.

STREAM Stage 2 becomes world’s largest clinical trial for multidrug-resistant tuberculosis.

Vital’s Research team completes recruitment to the STREAM Stage 2 trial, finishing with 588 participants recruited to Stage 2 and more than 1,000 participants recruited to both stages of the trial; this makes it the world’s largest recruited clinical trial for multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB). In spite of obstacles created by the COVID-19 pandemic, there was no interruption of treatment and the integrity of the trial was maintained.

Stop Tobacco Bangladesh reaches millions with media campaign.

More than 90,000 people die each year from tobacco-related disease in Bangladesh. With support from Vital Strategies, the government of Bangladesh launched mass and social media campaigns highlighting the deadly consequences of smokeless tobacco. The “Stop Tobacco Bangladesh” Facebook page has 500,000+ supporters and has reached 160 million.

Vital Strategies supports Guadalajara’s efforts to protect children from traffic crashes.

Traffic crashes are the leading cause of death among Mexican children ages 5 to 17. Vital’s Partnership for Healthy Cities participated in Guadalajara’s launch of a new “Safe Routes to School” initiative to increase the safety of children’s commutes.

Even before COVID-19, many people in Jakarta wore masks in an effort to protect themselves from air pollution.


On the brink of a pandemic, Vital Strategies, with the leadership of Resolve to Save Lives, strengthens vulnerable health systems.

Even before WHO declared a global pandemic, the Prevent Epidemics team accelerated efforts to support a global response to COVID-19. In preparation for outbreaks in countries with vulnerable health systems, the team worked to shore up health care infrastructure in Africa. The team made rapid, flexible funding available in 21 countries; developed on-the-ground training for health care workers focused on infection prevention and control; and worked with more than two dozen partners in low- and middle-income countries to train thousands of health workers throughout Africa. “Resolve to Save Lives arrived just in time and allowed us to surge our capacity when it was needed most,” said WHO Mauritania Representative Dr. Abdou Salam Gueye. “Without their efforts we would still be flying blind in terms of actual case count.” 

Visit our COVID-19 response and resources center.

Fighting fake news with credible information, Vital launches global coronavirus information hub.

To counter misinformation and help countries find, stop and prevent COVID-19, Vital launched its coronavirus information hub to provide credible, evidence-based information. In 2020, the site had more than 750,000 unique visitors from more than 200 countries, with more than 60,000 downloads of resources. With weekly scientific updates and nearly 10,000 subscribers, the hub has become an invaluable resource for public health officials, medical staff, governments and people around the world. Over the course of 2020, Vital also supported 22 countries with COVID-related mass media campaigns in 25 languages and appeared more than 40,000 times in media outlets around the world.

The next phase of the Bloomberg Philanthropies Initiative for Global Road Safety is announced at the 3rd Global Ministerial Conference on Road Safety in Stockholm.

The initiative’s expansion to 15 countries and 30 cities in 2020, with a $240 million reinvestment from Bloomberg Philanthropies, will enable Vital Strategies and the initiative’s partners to continue efforts to reduce road traffic crashes, injuries and deaths. At the Stockholm conference, Vital Strategies coordinated meetings with partners and top country officials, held a strategic communication workshop for high-level officials and hosted a panel discussing road safety communication. The meeting culminated in the Stockholm Declaration, an ambitious and forward-looking document that connects road safety to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Mexico launches a pilot hypertension control program based on the WHO HEARTS initiative.

Resolve to Save Lives worked with officials from Sonora and Chiapas to establish specific drug treatment protocols, which will be promoted as models for other states including Tabasco, Yucatan and Campeche.

In partnership with the Ministry of Health and the Ethiopian Medical Association, we helped train nearly 2,000 health care workers on lifesaving infection prevention and control measures and maintaining essential health services.


Using data to respond to COVID-19 in Africa.

Vital Strategies and Resolve to Save Lives spearhead PERC, the Partnership for Evidence-Based Response to COVID-19. Vital is a founding partner of PERC, a public-private partnership that supports evidence-based measures to reduce the impact of COVID-19 on African Union Member States. In 2020, its research was used to: 1) provide 20 African governments with real-time data to drive prevention guidelines and save lives; and 2) highlight the indirect burdens of the virus across Africa—including skipped routine care and food insecurity—and offer recommendations on scaling up or down public health and social measures.


Learn about PERC's activities in African Union Member States.

The Data Impact program develops “Guide for Analysis of Respiratory Syndromic Surveillance Data” for early detection of COVID-19.

This guide provides practical, step-by-step guidance on using existing data from respiratory disease surveillance systems and hospital-based routine data systems for early detection of COVID-19, and includes templates to support data analysis and communication of results.


Building COVID-19 support within national legislation.

Many countries have limited legislation in place to support prevention of, detection of and response to infectious diseases. Vital’s legal and advocacy program equips cities and countries to rapidly review their existing legal framework, fill gaps and work to ensure that public health and social measures to address COVID-19 are implemented with international legal and ethical standards. Vital Strategies supported the development of 29 legal instruments to respond to COVID-19, affecting more than 160 million people.

Resolve to Save Lives mobilizes early to protect health care workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 response, training tens of thousands on safety protocols.

Resolve to Save Lives develops an on-the-ground training for health care workers focused on infection prevention and control. Throughout the year Resolve works with more than two dozen partners in low- and middle-income countries to train 36,300 staff in 7,200 facilities across Africa.

Prevention Point Philadelphia, the city’s largest syringe and harm reduction program, secures uncaptured revenue.

With technical assistance and consultant support from Vital Strategies, the organization was able to review its current services to identify uncaptured reimbursement and price discount opportunities and begin a process toward Medicaid billing. By billing for services such as case management, behavioral health support, wound care, and hepatitis C screenings, the program has nearly $200,000 in new revenue per quarter for services to people who use drugs.

From the PERC report.

Our numbers in 2020

  • Vital Strategies annual budget

    $151 M

  • Countries receiving COVID-19 technical support


  • Participants recruited to STREAM MDR-TB trial