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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.

Health & Wellness

Mushrooms emerge from the shadows in pesticide-free production push

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By Ali Jones

Mention La Rioja in northern Spain and most people will picture majestic sun-drenched vineyards nestled in the hillsides. But, hidden from the sunlight, the region is also home to a very different crop that happens to be at the heart of efforts to make European food production more sustainable.

Three small villages in La Rioja house the vast, dark, humid growing sheds that produce its 77 000 tonnes of mushrooms each year. Almost half of Spain’s cultivated mushroom crop is grown in the region, making Spain the third-largest producer in Europe, behind Poland and the Netherlands.

New world

‘Mushrooms are a whole different world than we are used to, from growing plants or rearing animals,’ said Pablo Martínez, an agronomist who worked in wineries before being drawn to the specialist mushroom sector after a chance conversation with a former colleague.

Based at the Mushroom Technological Research Centre of La Rioja (CTICH), Martínez manages a Europe-wide project to tackle the environmental challenges faced by the industry.

Many people know very little about how mushrooms are grown. While it’s easy to buy a starter kit online to have a go at home, growing on a commercial scale is very different – managing humidity, temperature and light to produce a regular, quality crop while contending with pest control.

Cultivated mushrooms can double in size in a day and consumer demand for them is mushrooming too.

The global market is projected to grow from around 15 million tonnes in 2021 to more than 24 million tonnes over the next five years. Packed with nutrients, they deliver a protein-rich umami kick that is well suited to the soaring trend for plant-based foods.

To meet demand, growers need to fail-safe their crop from pests and, for now, they rely on pesticides. Tighter regulations are limiting available products and concerns over the impact on the environment and human health mean growers are looking to researchers to come up with answers.

CTICH is coordinating the BIOSCHAMP project, which works with researchers, commercial partners and mushroom growers in six European countries. In addition to Spain, they are Belgium, the Netherlands, Poland, Serbia and the UK.

Peatland protection

Mushrooms are grown on a substrate, or base layer, made of straw and animal manure, then covered with a thick blanket of peat known as the casing. Made up of partially decayed vegetation, peat perfectly mimics nature’s forest floors that so readily yield mushrooms.

The depletion of precious finite peatlands is a global concern. These wetlands store more carbon than all other vegetation types in the world combined and their conservation is ever more important for countering climate change.

‘Mounting restrictions on peat extraction in European countries threaten the long-term continuity of peat supplies,’ said Martínez. ‘We’re looking to develop a new product for growing mushrooms that could cut pesticide use by 90% while reducing the industry’s reliance on peat.’ 

Most of Europe’s peat comes from the Baltic countries, traveling first by boat to the Netherlands, where it is treated ready for commercial use, before being distributed to growers across Europe, amassing transport costs and a heavy carbon footprint.

BIOSCHAMP aims to create a low-peat sustainable casing for cultivated mushrooms made from renewable materials sourced close to existing mushroom production.

While the exact details are under wraps, it will combine with a substance known as a biostimulant to enhance the natural growing processes and strengthen the mushroom mycelium in their early phase, protecting them against disease without the need for chemical pesticides.

Fertile waste 

In Norway, two mushroom enthusiasts have pioneered a project to explore whether the crop could be cultivated in food waste. The EU-funded initiative is called VegWaMus CirCrop.

Dr Agnieszka Jasinska, who completed her postgraduate research on mushroom substrates, has led the research in partnership with Dr Ketil Stoknes, senior project leader of research and development at waste-management company Lindum and himself once a specialist mushroom grower.

The project has demonstrated that organic residue from food waste – usually used to feed anaerobic digestors, devised to capture methane and divert it from problematic greenhouse gas to useful fuel – can be a successful starter for mushrooms.

The European Food Information Council (EUFIC) estimates that a whopping one third of all food produced for human consumption is wasted. Anaerobic digestion, also known as biogas, allows the nutrients from waste to be reused for growing plants in greenhouses.

‘It enables a climate-efficient, resilient, urban food production system based entirely on waste,’ said Stoknes.

Tomatoes, lettuce and herbs had been chosen as the initial candidates. But Stoknes said that mushrooms are degraders, breaking down fibres and so on, and are a necessary part of an integrated biosystem. Inspired by the natural cycle in the forest, the project set out to combine mushrooms and plants in one circular system.

The biogas system is explained as ‘food to waste to food’ and it’s a movement that is growing in popularity.

While mushroom cultivation ceased on a commercial scale in Norway in the early 2000s, unable to compete with other countries, VegWaMus CirCrop has proved there could be a sustainable future for Norwegian mushroom production after all.

Side hustle

The project has hatched a start-up company called SOPPAS with ambitions to scale up the process commercially. In the meantime, it’s embarking on a raft of new ideas, including expanding production at the food waste biogas facility from button mushrooms to oyster mushrooms.

‘The new company will produce starter blocks for growing mushrooms for farmers, plant producers and greenhouse owners who might want to diversify to mushrooms in their low season,’ said Jasinska. ‘They can put their existing pickers, packing line and cold-storage facilities to good use in idle times and sell the produce locally.’

Against the backdrop of growing momentum for producing food from waste and an interest in keeping production local, both EU-funded projects look set to give mushrooms their moment in the sun.

Research in this article was funded via the EU’s Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA). ). This article was originally published in Horizon, the EU Research and Innovation Magazine.

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Sergey Lavrov: ‘If you want peace, always be ready to defend yourself’

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Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov gave an exclusive interview to Sputnik on Thursday, February 2. The conversation took place at a time of heightened international tensions over the conflict in Ukraine.

Mr. Lavrov has answered questions posed by the General Director of Rossiya Segodnya International News Agency, Dmitry Kiselev (photo), on the most pressing issues regarding Russian foreign policy and the international agenda.

Key statements made by Russia’s FM Sergei Lavrov in his interview to Sputnik:

Moscow did not turn to Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) partners with a request for assistance in connection with the special operation in Ukraine. “We have not made such a request to anyone. We proceed from the fact that we have everything necessary to solve the tasks of the special military operation, to end the war that the West started through the Ukrainian regime even after the coup d’etat.”

It seems that the West will supply Kiev with modern military equipment together with foreign combat crews. “All types of weapons that have already been partially transferred, and especially those that have been announced, according to experts, it is impossible for Ukrainians to work on these systems, trained or having passed some two-month or even three-month courses. There are systems, according to specialists, that cannot be trained for in the foreseeable future, and if they are supplied, then most likely it will be done together with combat crews.”

The more long-range weapons are supplied to the Kiev regime by the West, the further they need to be moved away from Russian territory.

Russia wants the conflict with Ukraine to end, but the time factor is not the main issue.

The United States deprives nations of the right to remember their own history; their task is to melt everyone into “Americans”.

The US conviction of its own superiority and infallibility is the main reason for Russia’s current confrontation with the West.

The West is hoping for a strategic defeat for Russia so that it cannot recover for decades.

Nobody is trying to convince Kiev to return to negotiations with Moscow; Zelensky himself does not feel like an independent figure, he is being manipulated.

The presumption that Russia refuses to negotiate on Ukraine is a lie.

The West is now “eyeing” Moldova for the role of “next Ukraine”; its president is ready for almost anything.

The West, on an almost “daily” basis, forces developing countries, including those in Africa, to implement sanctions against Russia;

The ideas of different countries increasing trade in national currencies are emerging because of US actions, which violate all the boundaries of decency with the US dollar.

Relations between Russia and China are superior in quality to a military alliance; they have no restrictions, limits or taboo topics; China already began to reduce dependence on Western financial mechanisms.

Nuland made a confession, rejoicing at the explosions on the Nord Stream pipelines; her words reflect the direct participation of the United States in the terrorist attack.

The United States “crushed” the European Union under itself, depriving it of the last signs of independence.

Lavrov says he is for peace, follows philosophy ‘if you want peace, always be ready to defend yourself.’

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More Americans believe US provides ‘too much support’ to Ukraine

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A growing portion of Americans think that the U.S. is giving too much support to Ukraine, as the Biden administration and other western allies have taken steps in recent weeks to escalate their backing of the country in its war against Russia, notes ‘The Hill’.

About a quarter of Americans, 26 percent, think the U.S. support of Ukraine is ‘too strong’, according to a new Pew Research Center poll. It is a percentage of people that has steadily grown since the Russian invasion of Ukraine last year and has jumped 6 points since September.

The U.S. has sent billions of dollars to Ukraine to support its military in the war against Russia. In a $1.7 trillion spending package passed by Congress late last year, lawmakers included around $45 billion in funding for Ukraine and NATO allies. But the spending levels have come under attack by some Republican lawmakers, who argue the country is opening its pockets at unsustainable levels for Ukraine.

Then-House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said that House Republicans would not provide a “blank-check” for support of Ukraine if his party took control of the House — which it did. Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) said on Twitter that President Biden needed to understand the U.S. wasn’t an ATM (automated teller machine).

And as some prominent Republicans have started to sour on the support levels, the poll of 5,152 people, with a margin of error of 1.7 percent, found that Republican voters are following along. A total of 40 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents think the U.S. is providing ‘too much support’, according to the poll. That is up from 32 percent in September and from 9 percent in February 2022.

While Republican attitudes have dimmed on Ukrainian support, they have also come to view the Russian war as less of a major threat to the U.S.

Just 29 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents think the war is a major threat.

In March 2022, Republicans were more likely to see the invasion as a direct threat to the U.S., but now Democrats are more likely to hold that opinion, with 43 percent holding that belief.

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