United Nations chief seeks $35bn funding for WHO’s COVID-19 vaccine research

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United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Thursday called for a “quantum leap in funding” for the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) initiative to speed up the development of COVID-19 vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics.

UN Calls For ‘Quantum Leap’ In Funding For COVID-19 Fight

The project, known as the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT), has received 3 billion dollars, which Guterres called “critical as a seed funding.”

“But we now need 35 billion dollars more to go from ‘start-up’ to ‘scale-up and impact,’” the United Nations chief told an online meeting of the ACT facilitation council.

“There is real urgency in these numbers – without an infusion of 15 billion dollars over the next three months, beginning immediately, we will lose the window of opportunity to further advance research, build stocks in parallel with licensing, start procuring and delivering the new diagnostics and therapeutics.

“And help countries prepare to optimise the new vaccines when they arrive,” he said.

The initiative, which was launched at a Brussels donor conference in May, advocates for the fair distribution of future vaccines and medications to developing as well as developed countries.

ACT involves major philanthropic health funds such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, as well as the Britain-based Wellcome Trust.

Guterres also noted a “worrying trend of numerous parallel initiatives and nationally focused efforts that would not only be undermining an effective global response, it would be self-defeating.”

“No one and no country will be safe until everybody is safe,” he said.

Meanwhile, The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) has urged African countries not to “lose sight” of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mr Stephen Karingi, The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA0) Director, Regional Integration, Infrastructure and Trade Division UNECA, made the call during the presentation of an ECA report tagged: “Facilitating Cross-Border Trade and Transport amid COVID-19’’ on Thursday.

Karingi, during a webinar said that African economies should not let the pandemic undermine regional integration and “must maintain the momentum and ambition of the AfCFTA process”.

The director said the pandemic was an opportunity to overcome long-standing cross-border trade challenges and would help member states identify areas that needed strengthening to boost intra-African trade.

He said that combating the virus required regional coordinated actions to contain the its spread at the same time as facilitate safe cross-border trade.

“By magnifying Africa’s cross-border inefficiencies, the COVID-19 crisis presents an opportunity to reinvigorate efforts targeted at overcoming long-standing challenges.

“This has increased the urgency to do better and find innovative solutions to facilitate safe and efficient cross-border trade.

“It will be important for Africa to maintain and upgrade these solutions post COVID-19 to lower trade costs, boost competitiveness and support more resilient cross-border trade in the face of future shocks,” he said.

He said that various tools and interventions to respond to Africa’s trade facilitation challenges had emerged in recent years, of which many had been successfully piloted at specific borders.

Highlighting the tools, he said that they could be tailored and extended to respond to COVID-19 border challenges.

“The one-stop border post concept refers to the legal and institutional framework, facilities and associated procedures that enable goods, people and vehicles to stop in a single facility in which they undergo necessary controls following applicable regional and national laws to exit one state and enter the adjoining state.

“Moving forward, efforts will be required to fully operationalise one-stop border posts that have already been constructed but are not yet functional, and to roll them out across the continent.

“Functioning one-stop border posts can be used to coordinate the implementation of COVID-19 health checks and regulations, reducing additional time and monetary costs.”

Karingi said that the New Partnership for Africa’s Development’s (NEPAD) traffic light system under the MoveAfrica programme, assessed and ranked performances of border posts, and documents corrective actions for replication to other border posts.

He said that UNECA was collaborating with African Union Development Agency (AUDA) and NEPAD to update the traffic light system to make it COVID-19 relevant and inclusive.

He said that the pandemic offered the opportunity to fast track the rolling out of the Africa collaborative transit guarantee schemes to reduce transit costs at the regional level and eventually, the continental level.

The scheme was recently launched by the African Export-Import Bank and will allow for goods to move within regional economic communities under a single transit guarantee.

The director said AfCFTA negotiations had continued online via a secured electronic platform and urged the secretariat to continue its recruitment of members of staff and also operationalise a functional online office.

“National planning for the implementation of the AfCFTA Agreement (and supporting institutions) should continue so that countries will be ready for implementation once the crisis eases.

“The African Union Commission should consider accepting electronically ratified versions of the Agreement until the pandemic subsides.”

Karingi said that member states could not conclude negotiations on the AfCFTA due to the pandemic but hoped the agreement would be implemented in Jan. 2021.

He recommended that regional economic communities contributed to the common African Union COVID-19 protocol on trade and transportation to ensure coordination.

Karingi also urged member states to fast track the establishment of a continental simplified trade regime as part of the AfCFTA process.

He further suggested that digital solutions should be deployed to combat the spread of COVID-19 along trade corridors, and support safe and efficient trade.

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