Executive Messages

From the Chairperson of the Board of Trustees

On behalf of the Board of Trustees, I would like to congratulate the entire Vital Strategies team on a transformative year. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Vital Strategies has made a greater impact and been more sought after than ever, partnering with global, national and local governments and organizations around the world. I am moved by the fortitude and resilience of our staff, who worked tirelessly while facing their own personal challenges.

In early 2020, Vital Strategies rapidly expanded to support the epidemic response in 50+ countries. We were nimble and capable of meeting every new commitment we made, and never lost sight of our central work to prevent and reduce noncommunicable diseases, such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes and lung disease.

Because of Vital Strategies’ steadfast commitment and track record, the organization has experienced explosive growth in recent years, from an annual budget of $50 million in 2014 to $182 million in 2021. We now have a team of more than 400 working in 73 countries. Even in the midst of the pandemic, we were able to expand our reach by establishing offices in Ethiopia and India, countries where we have worked for many years. These join our existing offices in Brazil, China, France, Singapore and New York.

Public health has long been in the background: Most people don’t see the web of protections that public health provides. It’s the person who doesn’t get lung cancer because tobacco control measures protected them from secondhand smoke. It’s the pedestrian death that didn’t happen because good data identified a dangerous intersection. It’s the overdose prevented by effective, evidence-based harm reduction policies. In 2020, public health became central and visible in our daily lives.

It is my hope that out of this year of crisis, the world will see the value of investing in our public health systems and see how much progress we can make on what seem like insurmountable challenges if we only have the will to do it. Let us have the will in 2021 and coming years, so that we can recover from this crisis and continue building a healthier world.

Louis James de Viel Castel

From the President and CEO

In January 2020, when COVID-19 did not yet have a name but was spreading rapidly in China, Vital Strategies could see that a pandemic was imminent. With our expertise and strong relationships with governments and partners around the world, and after years of advocating on the global and national levels for better health systems—including epidemic preparedness—we knew we could be a leader in addressing the crisis. We knew 2020 could be transformative.

In those early months of 2020, we distributed rapid response funds in 21 countries to support urgent needs, such as fuel for lab transport vehicles, mass media campaigns and contact tracers. Our experts went on national and international media regularly to share scientific data and advice and dispel myths. Our entire organization took on an incident command structure and rapidly redeployed our team to work on the COVID response while adjusting all of our programs to continue through the pandemic.

As the months ticked on, even with vaccine development and distribution on the horizon, it became evident that the pandemic would continue into 2021. While we helped to blunt the impact of COVID-19, we remained focused on our vision, now more urgent than ever: a world where everyone is protected by a strong public health system. As COVID-19 rates rose to new heights each month, the leading causes of death worldwide—cancer, diabetes, heart disease—became less likely to be detected or treated even as they exacerbated the effects of the pandemic. More people would die of noncommunicable diseases in 2020 than of COVID-19.

Despite the crisis, progress had to continue on policies that limit the drivers of noncommunicable diseases—from air quality to food policy to tobacco control. While working on COVID-19 response in more than 50 countries, Vital Strategies ramped up its foundational work of promoting policies that address these drivers, as well as on critical issues such as overdose and road safety.

We each carry our own personal timeline of 2020. Vital Strategies’ timeline in our 2020 annual report invites you to explore what we were doing behind the scenes and on the stage as this dramatic, unprecedented year played out.

José Luis Castro
President and CEO

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