Global COVID response program ‘running on fumes’ amid budget shortfall

Bruce Aylward of the World Health Organization (WHO) attends a news conference of the WHO-China Joint Mission on Covid-19 about its investigation of the coronavirus outbreak in Beijing, China, February 24, 2020. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

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Feb 8 (Reuters) – A global initiative to get COVID-19 tests, treatments and vaccines to poorer nations has only received 5% of the donations sought to deliver on its aims this year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) and other aid groups.

The Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator budgeted $23.4 billion for its efforts from October 2021 to September 2022, of which it hoped $16.8 billion would come in the form of grants from richer countries.

However, so far it has had just $814 million pledged, leaders of the initiative told a media briefing on Tuesday. In addition to the WHO, the project is backed by organizations including the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, The Global Fund, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “That’s just a minuscule 5% of what we require. It is time to awaken the conscience of the world,” said the WHO’s global ambassador for health financing, Gordon Brown, a former British prime minister.

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On Wednesday, a number of world leaders are set to support publicly the push for more funding, calling for the investment to end the emergency phase of the COVID-19 pandemic this year.

The ACT-Accelerator hub encompasses the COVAX initiative, which has focused on equitable access to vaccines. It also involves providing tests and treatments to low and middle-income countries, as well as personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers.

Bruce Aylward, a senior WHO official who acts as coordinator for the initiative, said it was stuttering due to a lack of funds.

“The global response is running on fumes,” he said.

The lack of funding has been apparent since the start of the pandemic. The gap for the project’s previous budget was $14.5 billion. Partners said the majority of funding so far had gone into COVID-19 vaccines, leaving the other goals – tests, treatments, and PPE – short.

Even so, the initiative has fallen well short of its goal to deliver 2 billion COVID vaccines in 2021, with only 10% of people in low-income countries having received at least one dose of a vaccine, compared to almost 68% in richer countries , according to WHO data.

Brown called for countries to fund the initiative under a “fair share” model based on the size of their own economies, which he said resembled how nations commit to funding United Nations peacekeeping forces.

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Reporting by Jennifer Rigby in London; Editing by Aurora Ellis

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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