July to September

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.


Data for Health programs fill data gaps in the pandemic response.

As COVID-19 continues to destabilize public health systems around the world, it’s clear that strong data and informed decision-making are critical during this crisis. To expand capacity to address the ongoing toll of COVID-19, the Global Grants Program—one of the Vital Strategies programs in the Bloomberg Philanthropies Data for Health Initiative—introduces a new round of funding dedicated to projects that address an immediate and critical need for data related to the pandemic response. The Cancer Registry program supported in-country experts on cancer registry data collection methodology and analysis. With Vital’s support, Tanzania’s Ministry of Health developed its first integrated report on cancer incidence and Myanmar’s Ministry of Health established its first central coordinating unit for cancer registries.

Learn more about Vital Strategies Global Grants' proposals process on our blog.

STOP releases the report “Driving Addiction: F1 and Tobacco Advertising.”

By the end of the 2020 season, Formula 1 made at least $4.5 billion from tobacco sponsorships over its 70-year history. Formula 1 is one of the last global sports series that still allows tobacco marketing. And because F1 has an overwhelmingly young and affluent fan base, a new generation is being exposed to highly addictive, harmful products.

CNN reports:

“According to a study published by Stopping Tobacco Organizations and Products (STOP), a global tobacco industry group, Formula One and its motorcycle counterpart MotoGP remain the only major global sports series to still allow tobacco brands to align with certain teams and events to target fans.”

COVID-19 communication campaigns reach millions in Chad, Togo, Benin, Niger and Burkina Faso.

Vital played a key role in countering misinformation surrounding COVID-19 with credible public health information, producing 635 high-quality communication products in 25 languages. Over the course of 2020, Vital collaborated with 22 countries and 44 cities on mass media campaigns to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

Visit covid19riskcomms.org

New online tool demonstrates how the timing of different public health and safety measures could affect the spread of COVID-19.

Resolve to Save Lives and partners developed a simulator to help guide national decisions about public health and social measures, such as stay-at-home orders. The Public Health and Social Measures Simulator illustrates available policy options and offers results specific to the selected region/location. The simulator allows governments to anticipate the impact of implementing and discontinuing different measures—such as sheltering in place, closing schools, canceling mass gatherings and shielding the elderly—based on how long they are implemented. Since its July launch, the tool has been viewed by more than 400,000 people.

Status of COVID-19 information in the United States receives first-ever comprehensive review.

Unlike many other countries, the United States does not have standard, national data on COVID-19. Resolve to Save Lives conducted the first-of-its-kind review in the country and outlined how states and communities can increase transparency about risk of COVID-19 and accountability for progress through reporting on 15 essential indicators.

Tracking COVID-19 in the United States

From the STOP report, "Driving Addiction: F1 and Tobacco Advertising".


In Viet Nam, more than one in four deaths are linked to excessive salt consumption.

Vital Strategies and Resolve to Save Lives supported Reduce Salt by Half, the nation’s first major mass media campaign to depict the dangers of a high salt diet. The two-month media campaign launched in August and is broadcast on television and radio, featured across social media platforms and complemented by community-based activities.

COVID-19 revealed deep structural inequities in food environments. Watch our VitalTalks speakers series on food policy.

“Through the Smokescreen” highlights the chasm between actual and the public’s perceived sources of air pollution in India.

In India, where 99% of the population breathe air worse than WHO’s air quality guidelines, citizens want their government to implement policy solutions to improve air quality. Yet Vital’s “Through the Smokescreen” report reveals poor public understanding of the major sources of air pollution and priority clean air solutions in India; these misperceptions are driving demand toward solutions that have limited impact on air pollution. “Through the Smokescreen” is based on an analysis of 82,000 news and social media posts from India, eight focus group discussions and more than 2,000 interviews of residents in five Indian cities: Delhi, Surat, Patna, Mumbai and Bengaluru.

Vital releases the “COVID-19 Harm Reduction Toolkit” to help people who use drugs be safer during the pandemic.

The toolkit, which Vital Strategies created with partners Higher Ground Harm Reduction and Reynolds Health Strategies, provides informative fact sheets, tips and guidance for people who use drugs, engage in sex work, those who are unhoused and the stakeholders who work with these communities.

Pairing art with public health to save lives in Philadelphia.

A new partnership between the Philadelphia Department of Public Health and Mural Arts Philadelphia—with support from the Partnership for Healthy Cities—successfully launched an eye-catching platform for a public art campaign that promotes safe physical distancing and COVID-19 prevention.

Image from "Reduce Salt By Half".


Tobacco Control program achieves policy wins in eight priority countries reaching 2 billion people in 2020.

Significant wins were gained in Indonesia, where excise taxes were raised 12.5% in 2020, and in Turkey, where advocacy efforts led to an increase in tobacco taxes by 6.89% and curtailed industry interference in cigarette packaging. Viet Nam enacted a smoke-free decree, increasing fines for selling cigarettes to minors. In Mexico, the state of Jalisco approved a 100% smoke-free policy, protecting 8.2 million people.


Learn more about Vital's global tobacco control work on our blog.

“What’s in our food?” Vital releases guide to front-of-package nutrient labels.

Vital released guide to front-of-package labels during the U.N. General Assembly at a VitalTalks side event,  A Recipe for Health: The Urgent Need for Food Policy. Each year, 8 million deaths are attributed to poor diet. During the pandemic, the push to improve nutrition intensified with new evidence showing that obesity results in 48% higher death rates from COVID-19. Clear labels on unhealthy foods emerged as a key strategy to improve nutrition.

Measuring excess mortality in Brazil and beyond.

Vital’s data was featured in the New York Times to assess a more accurate global death count attributed to COVID-19.

Resolve to Save Lives partners with WHO to launch the second annual progress report for REPLACE.

The REPLACE report monitors advances toward the elimination of artificial trans fat. Although 58 countries so far have introduced laws that will protect 3.2 billion people from the harmful substance by the end of 2021, more than 100 countries still need to take actions to remove it from their food supplies. Resolve to Save Lives President and CEO Tom Frieden published an op-ed calling for regional action to eliminate trans fat from the global food supply.

Not all masks are created equal.

Vital released mask guidance explaining which masks are most effective to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and how to properly use them.

The city of Bengaluru, India launches a 3 w's communication campaign (wear a mask, wash your hands, watch your distance) supported by the Partnership for Healthy Cities.

Our numbers in 2020

  • Cities that mounted COVID-19 mass media campaigns with our support


  • News and social media posts on air pollution in India analyzed by Vital


  • Invested in a new fellowship to strengthen food policy

    $3.5 M