With four variants of COVID-19 currently dominating the epidemiology, there are fears that new, and possibly more dangerous variants of concern may emerge.
To this end, the access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT-Accelerator) of the World Health Organisation (WHO), yesterday, mounted a $7.7 billion appeal for the Rapid ACT-Accelerator Delta Response (RADAR).
WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said: “US$7.7 billion is needed urgently to fund the ACT-Accelerator’s work to address the Delta surge and put the world on track to ending the pandemic. This investment is a tiny portion of the amount governments are spending to deal with COVID-19 and makes ethical, economic and epidemiological sense. If these funds aren’t made available now to stop the transmission of Delta in the most vulnerable countries, we will undoubtedly all pay the consequences later in the year.”
WHO explained that the $7.7 billion is not an additional funding need but is part of the ACT-Accelerator’s overall 2021 budget, which is needed urgently within the next four months
With more COVID-19 cases reported in the first five months of 2021 than in the whole of 2020, WHO believes the world is still in the acute phase of the pandemic – despite high vaccination rates in some countries protecting populations from severe disease and death.
It however adds that inadequate testing and low vaccination rates are exacerbating disease transmission and overwhelming local health systems, while leaving the whole world vulnerable to new variants.
It noted that while many high-income countries and some upper-middle-income countries have implemented widespread vaccinations, put more robust testing systems in place, and made treatments increasingly available, many low- and lower-middle-income countries are struggling to access these vital tools due to a lack of funds and supplies.
Commenting, WHO Special Envoy to the ACT-Accelerator, Carl Bildt, said: “Ending the pandemic will generate trillions of dollars in economic return due to increased global economic output and reduced need for government stimulus plans to deal with the health and financial crisis that COVID-19 causes. The window for action is now.”
In a breakdown, the $7.7 billion RADAR appeal is to urgently:
- Scale up testing: $2.4 billion to put all low-and lower-middle-income countries on track towards a ten-fold increase in COVID-19 testing and ensure all countries get up to satisfactory testing levels. This will significantly enhance local and global understanding of the changing disease epidemiology and emerging variants of concern, inform the appropriate application of public health and social measures and break chains of transmission.
- Maintain R&D efforts to stay ahead of the virus: $1 billion for ongoing R&D, enable further market shaping and manufacturing, technical assistance and demand generation to ensure that tests, treatments and vaccines remain effective against the Delta variant and other emerging variants, and that they are accessible and affordable where they are needed.
- Address acute oxygen needs to save lives: $1.2 billion to rapidly address acute oxygen needs to treat the seriously ill and control the exponential death surges caused by the Delta variant.
- Rollout of tools: $1.4 billion to help countries identify and address key bottlenecks for the effective deployment and use of all COVID-19 tools. As supply of COVID-19 vaccines ramps up in the coming months, flexible funding will be essential to help fill on-the-ground delivery gaps.
- Protect frontline healthcare workers: $1.7 billion to provide two million essential healthcare workers with enough basic PPE to keep them safe while they care for the sick, prevent the collapse of health systems where the health workforce is already understaffed and overstretched, and prevent further spread of COVID-19.
If these funds aren’t made available now to stop the transmission of Delta in the most vulnerable countries, we will undoubtedly all pay the consequences later in the year.
In addition to the $7.7 billion appeal, WHO said there is an opportunity to reserve the supply of vaccines through exercising options in the fourth quarter of 2021 for 760 million doses of vaccine to be available in mid-2022 beyond the fully subsidised doses that COVAX will deliver up to the end of Q1 2022.
Reserving doses requires contingent capital; on delivery these 760 million doses will cost an additional $3.8 billion.
Investing in the ACT-Accelerator to make tools available to everyone, everywhere, will benefit all countries through a more globally inclusive and coordinated response.