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Explainer: The Coronavirus Global Response

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What is the Joint Call for Action?

The coronavirus pandemic affects practically every country in the world. Past experiences have shown that even with the availability of effective tools at the world’s disposal, some are protected, while others are not. This inequity is unacceptable – all tools to address the pandemic must be available to all.

With this in mind, the World Health Organization (WHO) and an initial group of global health actors have launched a landmark, global collaboration for the accelerated development, production and equitable global access to new COVID-19 essential health technologies. The partner organisations include: the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisations (GAVI), the Global Fund, UNITAID, the Wellcome Trust and the World Bank.

What is the Coronavirus Global Response?

To respond to the joint call for action from health actors, the EU is joining forces with France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Norway and Saudi Arabia to host a pledging event.

Researchers and innovators around the world are working very hard to find solutions to save lives and protect our health. But they need more funding. World-leading scientists and health experts say €7.5 billion ($8 billion) is now needed to develop solutions to test, treat and protect people, and to prevent the disease from spreading.

With the Coronavirus Global Response, the EU and its partners are taking the lead in the global effort to close this funding gap.

The initiative has two main aims:

  • To rally support for global efforts and attract sizeable financial contributions from the public, private and philanthropic sectors, to bridge the funding gap estimated at €7.5 billion for the development and deployment of diagnostics, treatments and vaccines;
  • To secure a high-level political commitment to ensuring equitable access to therapeutics and vaccines, leaving no-one behind.

How was the €7.5 billion fundraising target set?  

The €7.5 billion ($8 billion) figure is based on an assessment, done in March 2020, by the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board (GPMB), an independent monitoring and accountability body to ensure preparedness for global health crises. 

GPMB identified a shortfall of funding for major needs to fight this pandemic in key areas:

  • $1.25bn for the World Health Organization (WHO) to support the most vulnerable countries;
  • $3bn for research and development (R&D) of vaccines for COVID-19 ($2bn), plus seed funding for manufacturing and deployment ($1bn);
  • $2.25bn for R&D on therapeutics for COVID-19, plus seed funding for manufacturing and deployment;
  • $0.75bn for R&D on diagnostics for COVID-19, plus seed funding for manufacturing and deployment, and
  • $0.75bn to stockpile essential Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and vaccines.

GPMG has indicated that the full scale up of manufacturing and delivery will cost well above the current target, which is covers only the most urgently needed initial amounts.

Where are the main needs in the areas of vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics?

In these three areas, underfinancing exists mainly on manufacturing, procurement and deployment rather than research and development, even if this is the most urgent area to cover. The current situation in the three selected areas is as follows:

Vaccines are difficult to develop and the outcome of research is uncertain. Currently, there are more than 70 vaccines in development, and at least 3 have entered into clinical trials. Once a vaccine is available, the challenge will be to produce it in the extremely high quantities needed and required, as well as to ensure that it is available and accessible for all countries, including low and medium-income countries.

Therapeutics: So far more than 40 developers of potential treatments for COVID19 have contacted the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the Member States for scientific advice. Most of the treatments proposed are medicines currently authorised for other diseases. Clinical trials are currently ongoing to determine their efficacy for the treatment of COVID-19 patients. Once new therapies are identified, the challenge will be their production and manufacturing capacity and the need for large-scale procurement. Procurement at a global level will be costly and funding is therefore needed.

Diagnostics (Tests): At the moment, several types of tests, for different purposes, are in use. Some are used to detect the active disease and others to detect if the person passed on the disease. The latter still have be validated in terms of performance and produced on a large scale. The challenge is procurement and deployment, including equipment to analyse the results when applicable, as well as the link with effective and well-resourced testing strategies.

All new vaccines, diagnostics and treatments developed for COVID-19 will need to be made available globally for an affordable price, regardless of where they were developed or how they were funded. That is the reason why funds from this pledging initiative will go to organisations that are coordinating the global response to this crisis.

What is the GPMB?

Launched in 2018, the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board (GPMB) is an accountability and advisory body composed by 15 members to better respond to global health emergencies. It was created following the recommendations formulated by the UN Secretary General’s Global Health Crises Task Force in 2017.

The goals of the Board are to 1) assess the world’s ability to protect itself from health emergencies, 2) identify critical gaps to preparedness across multiple perspectives and 3) advocate for preparedness activities with national and international leaders and decision-makers and mobilise its influence with other leaders and policy makers at global, national and community levels.

The EU as such is not represented in the Board.

Who is in charge of the funds raised?

The European Union will coordinate the collection of the funds, which will be directed towards the needs identified by the GPMB in three strands: diagnostics, treatments and vaccines.

What is the breakdown of funds allocated to the three strands of work?

The 4 May will mark the beginning of the rolling out of the initiative aimed at developing three strands of work: diagnostics, treatments and vaccines. The breakdown of the funds will be further refined based on the initial indication of the needs identified by GPMB.

Pledges may be general or they may be earmarked for a specific strand.

Who will be developing the diagnostics, treatments and vaccines?

As of 20 April, the WHO had already identified 76 vaccine candidates supported by public, private and public-private consortia. There are many researchers and developers worldwide currently working on innovative solutions, including vaccines, treatments and diagnostics. The pressing needs and the special nature of research and development requires strong global collaboration.

Who will have ownership of the products produced with funding from the initiative?

Funding will benefit organisations that strive to ensure that the products will be available, accessible and affordable across the world, especially in the most vulnerable countries. Pledges will notably target CEPI and GAVI.

Funding pledged will also be accompanied by high-level commitments from donors in support of global access and fair deployment of new diagnostics, treatment and vaccines against COVID-19.

Who can donate? 

All countries, international organisations or financial institutions may contribute, but also the private sector, or foundations.

Why can’t private individuals make a donation?

The EU is not legally able to ask for citizens’ donations. Nonetheless, we are calling on individuals to d show their support by interacting on-line, spreading awareness about the initiative and encouraging the private sector to pitch in. In addition, individuals may make contributions to partner funds, such as the WHO COVID-19 solidarity response fund: https://covid19responsefund.org.

Until when can donations be made? 

Donations can be made as of 4 May 2020. On that day, the Commission will also announce the next milestones of a global campaign, which is to kick off an ongoing rolling replenishment.

What will you do if you exceed the fundraising target?

We aim is to reach €7.5 billion as we believe it is a realistic target for the current needs. More funding will be needed to sustain the actions in the coming months, which could benefit from donations beyond the targets. 

What is the estimated timeline for delivery on the three strands?

Given the current crisis, there is no time to lose. Funds will be allocated as quickly as possible. While a number of solutions are already being investigated, R&D, manufacturing and deployment are all time-consuming, resource-intensive steps. This is why it is crucial to coordinate efforts at international level, to identify as quickly as possible the most promising approaches while accelerating their development.

What are the links with the funds already raised for the WHO?

The WHO is currently helping to coordinate the worldwide response to COVID-19, which it declared to be public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) on January 30, and a global pandemic on March 11, 2020. The WHO Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan outlines the public health measures that the international community stands ready to provide to support all countries to prepare for and respond to COVID-19.

The funds raised by the Coronavirus Global Response would be complementary to the WHO’s work and their appeal. The first iteration of the WHO Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan (SPRP) called for a total resource requirement of $675 million, of which $61.5 million were for WHO’s urgent preparedness and response activities for the period of February to April 2020. An updated plan will be launched in April and will identify significantly larger resource needs for country response, research and development and WHO itself.

The EU’s partnership with the WHO to respond to the COVID-19 is not new and will be reinforced via our current initiative. For example, the EU is already working with the WHO to supply medical devices and personal equipment such as ventilators, laboratory kits, masks, goggles, gowns, and safety suits.

Which countries were invited to take part in the initiative?

All countries, international organisations and foundations who have shown interest in fighting the COVID-19 have been invited to participate.

Will the fruits of the initiative only benefit countries that participate?

No, the objective of this pledging event is to speed up innovations and ensure access for all, irrespective of the geographical origin of funds. Pandemics can only be effectively controlled when solutions are deployed globally. The initiative aims to rally significant financial contributions to develop diagnostics, treatments and vaccines and secure a high-level political commitment to ensure equitable access to diagnostics, treatments and vaccines to make sure no-one is left behind.

How does this pledging event compare to and complement other international initiatives?

This is an integral part of the multilateral response to the COVID-19 emergency and is aligned with the logic of on-going UN appeals. It stems directly from G20 Leaders’ commitment, and the G20 Action Plan to provide immediate resources to key entities in the global health response.

The conference will focus on the quest for solutions that currently do not exist, first through R&D, then deployment (access to new solutions), whereas the UN system is primarily tackling other needs such as humanitarian assistance, mitigation of the socio-economic impacts and preparedness of health systems for future outbreaks.

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EU Politics

InvestEU: EU programme to encourage investment

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InvestEU continues EU efforts to boost investment in Europe, support the recovery and prepare the economy for the future.

MEPs will debate and vote on the InvestEU programme for 2021-2027 during the plenary session taking place on 8-11 March. The programme succeeds the European Fund for Strategic Investments, established in 2015 as the core of the Juncker Plan to increase public and private investment in Europe. The new programme brings together financial instruments aiming to support investments that are crucial for economic growth.

Building on investment success

When Jean-Claude Juncker was elected president of the European Commission in 2014, he announced plans to close the gap in investments needed for the EU to overcome the effects of the financial and economic crisis that started in 2008.

The idea behind the European Fund for Strategic Investments was to use limited resources from the EU budget to offer guarantees to the European Investment Bank so that the bank could take on riskier projects than usual and thus encourage other investors to get involved.

The plan exceeded its target of attracting €500 billion in public and private investment for projects across the EU by the end of 2020. But the Covid-19 crisis and EU long-term goals of a green and digital future have created new challenges.

How InvestEU will work

The new programme will establish an EU guarantee of about €26.2 billion that will allow investment partners to take on higher risks and support projects they might have otherwise ignored. The main investment partner will continue to be the European Investment Bank, but national promotional banks in EU countries and international financial institutions will also have direct access to the EU guarantee.

By supporting projects that will attract many other investors, the InvestEU programme should attract more than €372 billion in investment across the EU, contributing to the recovery and to the EU’s long-term priorities.

EU countries will also be able to allocate resources to InvestEU from the structural funds they receive or from the funds they get from the Recovery and Resilience Facility that aims to support recovery from the pandemic.

Focus on sustainability, small firms and innovation
The EU guarantee will be allocated to four objectives:

  • Sustainable infrastructure: €9.9 billion
  • Research, innovation and digitalisation: €6.6 billion
  • Small and medium-sized enterprises: €6.9 billion
  • Social investment and skills: €2.8 billion

At least 30% of the investments under InvestEU should go towards meeting EU climate objectives. All four policy areas will include projects to support the just transition towards climate neutrality in the EU. Investment projects that receive EU support will be screened to determine they do no significant harm to the environment.

Support for innovation and small businesses are important aspects of the InvestEU programme. Check out the video to see how its predecessor backed German biotechnology firm BioNTech, which went on to develop, together with US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, the first EU-approved Covid-19 vaccine.

In negotiations with the Council, MEPs from the budgets and the economic and monetary affairs committees ensured that capital support will go to small and medium-sized enterprises hit by the Covid-19 crisis.

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Environment

Flipflopi sets sail around Lake Victoria to raise awareness on pollution menace

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image source: theflipflopi.com

Flipflopi, the world’s first sailing boat made from 100% recycled plastic, is joining forces with the UN Environment Programme’s Clean Seas Campaign once more, this time embarking on an expedition by sailing around Africa’s largest freshwater ecosystem – Lake Victoria. The voyage aims to send an urgent message to the East Africa community on the need to end the unnecessary single-use plastic scourge that is threatening the region. 

The current state of Lake Victoria, supporting 40 million East Africans, through food supply and livelihoods, symbolises the catastrophic effects of human activities and climate change, among other issues, resulting in significant water pollution which threatens the health and livelihoods of communities.

A recent study estimated that 1 in 5 of the fish in Lake Victoria had ingested plastic. Another recent study ubiquitously recorded microplastics in surface waters in several sites of Lake Victoria. At the heart of the plastic waste problem is the linear ‘take-make-dispose’ model of consumption, as products get manufactured, bought, used briefly, and then thrown away. 

The Flipflopi is an initiative showcasing alternative uses of plastic waste and the possibilities of circular economy approaches. Over a three-week period, Flipflopi will sail from Kisumu, Kenya to several locations in Uganda and Tanzania, raising awareness and inspiring communities to adopt circular-waste solutions to beat plastic pollution.

“This Lake, Nam Lolwe, matters to me. It must matter to us all.  Investing in research and development on blue economy investments, improving the health of the lake and riparian environment while ensuring that investments are ‘lake friendly’ from inception are amongst my priorities” said Governor of Kenya’s Kisumu County Anyang’ Nyong’o. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the need to address the myriad environmental crises, which can only be done through regional and global consensus on key issues like single-use plastic, and climate change,” said Joyce Msuya, Deputy Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). “Flipflopi is a great African example of the circular economy in action; we are proud to see it start this new journey around Lake Victoria, a shared resource that we must do all we can to protect.”

Flipflopi’s Lake Victoria expedition will include several stops along the lake engaging community leaders, conservationists, business leaders and policymakers, demonstrating alternate uses of waste plastic and other circular waste models calling for an end to single-use plastics.  

“Flipflopi was built to show the world that it is possible to make valuable materials out of waste plastic, and that single-use plastic really does not make sense,” said Ali Skanda, co-founder of the Flipflopi project and builder of the world’s first recycled plastic dhow. “By sailing around the lake, we aim to inspire people to create their own waste-plastic innovations and adopt circular solutions that will build greener businesses, whilst also taking plastic out of the environment. Together with communities across the Lake Victoria region we hope to bring awareness and innovative solutions to beat pollution and support a green recovery in East Africa”

Flipflopi is an example of innovative circular solutions applied at a national level to the pollution challenge.  In Kisumu on the shores of Lake Victoria, CIST Africa are making hand sanitizer from invasive water hyacinth. 

Innovators like Sanergy are turning Nairobi’s untreated organic waste into organic fertiliser for crops, feed for livestock, and fuel briquettes for energy.  In Uganda, the women who set up Reform Africa are turning plastic waste into sustainable and waterproof bags, whilst providing school children in rural areas with bags for free. In Tanzania, a collective of local artisans known as ‘Made by Africraft’ are introducing youth and the unemployed to developing sustainable handicrafts to create a livelihood. 

Flipflopi, the Clean Seas Campaign and partners aims to showcase green innovations as they sail around the lake, and inspire communities and businesses to act against plastic pollution.

As part of the expedition, the Flipflopi expedition will launch a petition calling for a regional ban on single-use plastics.

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Development

Reversing the Impact of the Pandemic on Female Workers in Latin America

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Working women in Latin America and the Caribbean were disproportionately affected by the Covid-19 pandemic compared to men. This fact underscores the need for the countries of the region to adopt measures to prevent the widening of the gender gap in the labor market, which persists despite decades of progress.

Women’s participation in the labor market rose from 41 percent in 1990 to 53 percent in 2019, a significant upward trend that is at risk of reversing in the current context, according to a new World Bank report.

“Women tend to have a more fragile employment situation than men, with jobs in the informal sector, in tasks that require more face-to-face interaction and less remote work, such as trade, personal care or tourism,” said Ximena Del Carpio, World Bank Practice Manager for the Poverty and Equity Practice Group for Latin America and the Caribbean. “In times of crisis, these workers are much more vulnerable to changes in the labor market.”

According to the policy note The Gendered Impacts of COVID-19 on Labor Markets in Latin America and the Caribbean prepared by the World Bank’s Gender Innovation Lab (LACGIL), at the onset of the pandemic, women were 44 percent more likely than men to lose their jobs temporarily or permanently (56 percent chance for women, 39 percent for men).

This gap remained virtually unchanged at around 15 percent once temporarily unemployed workers began to return to their jobs. However, the report underscores that permanent job loss affected one in five women.

Not all countries were affected equally. At the onset of the pandemic crisis, Honduras and Costa Rica had the highest gender gaps, where women were 25 percentage points more likely than men to be unemployed. Bolivia and Peru exhibited the smallest differences at the regional level, at 10 percent and 11 percent, respectively.

The report indicates that 56 percent of the job losses during the crisis were concentrated in trade, personal services, education, and hotels and restaurants. Those are four of the five most highly female-intensive sectors, employing 60 percent of female workers before the pandemic. This suggests a growing gap in the labor market, with potential effects on women’s empowerment, exacerbating intrahousehold imbalances and domestic violence.

The study conducted three rounds of telephone surveys in 13 countries of the region between May and August 2020, with 13,152 observations. The surveys focused on the employment situation of men and women during the pandemic and changes in household income and access to services, among other aspects. Based on the findings, the report offers public policy recommendations to reverse the negative impacts of the pandemic on women’s labor market participation and to ensure an inclusive recovery.

Immediate public policy responses should incorporate the gender perspective and create the conditions and incentives for women to work. They should also include programs to help women most affected by the crisis and those without access to social protection coverage. Additionally, they should support self-employment, promote training and job placement programs, and provide incentives for the formalization of female workers.

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