This week, world leaders will gather to consider crucial next steps in the global COVID-19 response. We applaud the co-hosts of the Second Global COVID-19 Summit – the United States, Belize, Germany, Indonesia and Senegal – for bringing together governments from across the globe to make concrete commitments to vaccinate the world, save lives now and build better health security.
Recent WHO estimates show the death toll associated with COVID-19 in 2020 and 2021 was just under 15 million, a sobering reminder of the human cost of this pandemic. With reported cases falling globally, it is tempting – but misguided – to think the crisis is over. This is the moment to intensify efforts, not to ease off. This summit gives leaders the opportunity to write the closing chapters of the pandemic – an opportunity they cannot afford to miss.
It is imperative that leaders seize this opportunity to mobilize the funding and political will required to achieve global targets for COVID-19 vaccination coverage, testing rates and access to treatments, including oral antivirals and oxygen. Achieving these targets is essential to ending the pandemic, by reducing transmission and protecting everyone from the harms of COVID-19.
A decisive global response will mitigate the economic fallout of COVID-19, including the supply disruptions that are contributing to inflation and slow growth in many parts of the world. Definitively ending COVID-19 will also enable the world to better focus on reversing the lost progress against other diseases and getting routine immunization back on track, especially critical for children’s survival and development.
However, the current context for ending the pandemic is making this work harder. Testing rates around the globe are plummeting, which means we cannot track the trajectory of this evolving virus, with low-income countries testing at an average of just 5 tests per day per 100,000 people – far from the goal of 100 per day.
Despite the significant progress made increasing coverage rates in lower-income countries, millions are still unvaccinated and exposed, with just over 15% of people in low-income countries having received a vaccine. Supporting country targets in light of the WHO goal of 70% coverage – especially prioritizing full coverage of at-risk groups – remains the best way to save lives, protect health systems and minimize cases of Long COVID. Access to effective new antivirals is limited by constrained supply and low testing rates, while medical oxygen and PPE shortages are still impacting many countries.
The ACT-Accelerator published a strategic plan and budget in October 2021 to address these inequities. We have made concrete progress on all fronts – but the partnership still faces a huge financing gap. We, the leaders of the ACT-Accelerator’s constituent agencies, are concerned that 6 months into our new budget cycle, just over 10% of our financing needs have been met.
Three months ago, we launched our financing framework with ‘fair share’ asks of the world’s richest countries, calculated based on the size of their national economies and what they would gain from a faster recovery of the global economy and trade. As of today, 6 countries have led the way in pledging at least 25% of their fair share – but we need more.
With the world’s attention drawn to other urgent crises, billions of people continue to suffer from a lack of equitable access to COVID-19 tools – taken for granted in many countries – due to a lack of funds and political will. Countries are juggling multiple competing health, economic, and social priorities, but they will drop all of these balls if the pandemic is prolonged and allowed to flare up again. A lack of funding for the rollout of vaccines and treatments is curtailing ambitions, precluding the population-wide vaccination campaigns and intensive outreach needed.
The BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron sub-variants driving up deaths and hospitalizations in places with high immunity is a warning that the global response needs to get ahead of future Variants of Concern. We must invest in research and development to update our tools, rolling out vaccines, tests and treatments to reduce and monitor transmission, while mitigating the impact of the pandemic and protecting essential services. Such actions should underpin an endgame strategy for the pandemic.
The actions set out by the Summit co-hosts will go a long way to addressing the financing and policy gaps that are currently holding back the COVID-19 response. Ending the pandemic in 2022 requires global leadership. Collectively, richer countries must fully fund the ACT-Accelerator’s US$15 billion financing gap, while all countries must commit to national policies and strategies that optimize our ability to control the pandemic, both nationally and globally. The pandemic will not end until access to vaccines, tests, treatments and PPE is achieved for everyone, everywhere.
We cannot afford to delay anymore. Lives, economies and global health security depend on the outcome of this Summit.
This week, we urge world leaders, the private sector, philanthropists, civil society and other stakeholders to make the firm, substantive commitments needed to save lives, turn the tide and secure the future for all.
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus – Director-General, the World Health Organization
Dr Seth Berkley – CEO, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance
Dr Philippe Duneton – Executive Director, Unitaid
Dr Chris Elias – President, Global Development Division, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Sir Jeremy Farrar – Director, Wellcome
Dr Richard Hatchett – CEO, CEPI
Dr Bill Rodriguez – CEO, FIND
Catherine Russell – Executive Director, UNICEF
Peter Sands – Executive Director, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria