Lots of Warm Words, Barely No Action — Is the G7 Still Relevant?

By Isabelle De Lichtervelde, Senior Program Officer, Policy & Advocacy

Last week, I wrote about our hopes and asks for the G7 Leaders’ Summit. At their annual gathering, G7 leaders faced two choices: they could either decide to take the fight against COVID-19 to another level and agree on a comprehensive global plan to end the pandemic everywhere for everyone or choose to continue with the piecemeal approach that has characterized the global response until now. Distracted by domestic issues, such as Brexit, they sadly went for the latter. The G7 communiqué contains a lot of warm words such as “a collective goal of ending the pandemic in 2022” and a commitment to both “strengthen global action now to fight COVID-19, and to take further tangible steps to improve our collective defenses against future threats and to bolster global health and health security”, but very little action to turn these statements into reality.

Here are some of our main take-aways (for a line-by-line emoji-based assessment of the health and development portions of the communiqué, click here):

  • On dose sharing, with the exception of the U.S. pledge to purchase 500 million Pfizer doses, the collective level of ambition failed to meet the urgency of the moment. G7 leaders committed “to share at least 870 million doses directly over the next year” and to “make these doses available as soon as possible and aim to deliver at least half by the end of 2021 primarily channelled through COVAX towards those in greatest need”. This is far from enough. Dose-sharing is urgently needed NOW, not as a long-term solution, but to plug the significant vaccine supply gap in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) caused by rich countries massively overbuying doses. Our ask is one billion doses by the end of August and at least two billion doses by the end of 2021. According to publicly-available data, G7 countries have bought three billion more doses than they need to fully vaccinate their entire population to 70%. On top of that, the pharma company’s own data shows that there will be 5 billion doses in circulation by the end of August and a staggering 11 billion doses by the end of the year. Yet, G7 leaders have only agreed to share 870 million doses over the next 12 months. According to a new analysis, this will provide only enough doses to vaccinate 10.3% of the population in LMICs.
  • While COVID is still raging, particularly in countries in need, the G7 didn’t make any new financial commitments to end COVID globally. ACT-A is still facing a US$18.1Bn funding gap and the latest estimates anticipate that it will cost at least US$50-66B to fully vaccinate the world — and likely much more when end-to-end delivery costs are factored in. Yet G7 leaders simply claimed pledges made in the past, without any concrete action to finance a global roadmap to end the pandemic in the coming months.
  • On a slightly more positive note, the G7 supported the extension of ACT-A and increased transparency on procurement and delivery data for both donor and recipient countries. The communiqué reads “efforts on this scale require close monitoring of progress made by ACT-A with reliable, transparent, up-to-date and clear information on procurement and delivery to both donor and recipient countries in close partnership with regional organizations. Progress should be reported to the G20 in Rome.” We need total transparency around vaccine production in order for the world to be able to get COVID-19 under control — see our transparency guidelines here. The Network will follow this important issue and continue to push for progress at the G20 meeting later this year.
  • On pandemic preparedness, the G7 outcome document is full of positive language but very little action, including around financing mechanisms for pandemic preparedness. The G7 committed to “explore options for building consensus this year, around sustainable global health and health security financing, supported by robust financial reporting, increased and defined accountability, and oversight”, — a potentially positive baby step toward having a catalytic, sustainable, and multilateral financing mechanism that is dedicated to promoting pandemic preparedness and prevention.


To quote the Network’s co-founder, Eloise Todd, “in footballing terms, the G7 had the ball in front of the net, open goal, and they skied it.” The consequence of this disappointing G7 Summit will be a prolonged pandemic, with more lives lost around the globe.

When will someone finally demonstrate the political leadership needed to end this pandemic?

It’s G7 Week — Will It Deliver the Global COVID-19 Plan We Desperately Need?

By Isabelle De Lichtervelde, Senior Program Officer, Policy & Advocacy

This week, all eyes will be on the G7 leaders as they meet in Cornwall for their annual Leaders’ Summit. At the gathering, leaders of the world’s seven largest advanced economies face two choices: they can either decide to take the fight against COVID-19 to another level and agree on a comprehensive global plan to end the pandemic everywhere for everyone or choose to continue with the piecemeal approach that has characterized the global response until now, thus prolonging this crisis for those who are most vulnerable. 

G7 Health Ministers and Finance Ministers met ahead of the Summit.

  • Health and Finance Ministers expressed their commitment to fully fund the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A), which still has a US$18.1 billion funding gap in 2021. Health Ministers are open to considering the extension of ACT-A into 2022 alongside efforts to strengthen supply chains and boost global vaccine manufacturing capacity. 
  • Finance Ministers also expressed strong support for the new Special Drawing Rights (SDR) allocation, including a reallocation to countries in need. 
  • On pandemic preparedness, while Health Ministers welcomed the upcoming special session of the World Health Assembly to consider the benefits of a pandemic treaty, Finance Ministers are looking forward to the Pandemic Preparedness Partnership’s Report to G7 Leaders and the G20 High-Level Independent Panel’s findings, and will consider their recommendations, particularly on financing mechanisms.


In parallel, progress was made regarding intellectual property rights and the impact it has on manufacturing and global supply of COVID-19 tools. The Biden Administration recently expressed its (partial) support for the World Trade Organization (WTO) COVID-19 TRIPS Waiver proposal, and the
EU presented its own proposal on patents which it is introducing to the WTO.

Ultimately, both meetings’ communiqués included positive language on the global response.  While these are all steps in the right direction, eighteen months into the pandemic, we need G7 leaders to move beyond their “think big, act small” strategy. They need to think big and act fast. As they gather for the annual G7 Leadership Summit, leaders have one job: to deliver a comprehensive, coordinated roadmap that accelerates global vaccine access and delivery of vaccinations and other COVID-19 tools for everyone. This strategy should include:

  • A comprehensive costing to show what it would take to achieve at least 70% vaccination coverage in all countries, including analysis to identify gaps in supply, procurement, and resources needed in-country for the delivery for vaccines, treatments, and tests. 
  • A burden-sharing model to set out fair share contributions and fully fund global vaccination to reach 70% coverage as soon as possible (including fully funding ACT-A.)
  • A plan to urgently address the huge vaccine supply gap in low- and middle-income countries by sharing two billion doses at the Leaders’ Summit, delivering one billion by the end of August and the second billion by the end of 2021 in coordination with COVAX.

 

As part of this global plan, G7 countries must urgently share vaccine doses with countries in need. G7 countries have bought three billion more doses than they need to fully vaccinate their entire population to 70%. The G7 U.K. Presidency should lead by example by committing to share 100 million doses as soon as possible before the Leaders’ Summit, and others should follow suit, in particular Team Europe and the United States.

G7 leaders can make a difference for the world this week and finally deliver the desperately needed plan to end this deadly pandemic. Let’s hope they deliver.

World AIDS Day: It is Only By Coming Together That We Will Defeat COVID-19 and HIV/AIDS

By Isabelle de Lichtervelde

 

Each year, World AIDS Day is recognized on December 1 to commemorate those who have lost their lives to AIDS and those living with and affected by HIV. It has also been an important occasion to galvanise support for a stronger and fairer response to HIV/AIDS. As with everything else impacted by COVID-19’s devastation this year, World AIDS Day 2020 is a unique moment and opportunity.

COVID-19 has shown the world once again how health is interlinked with other critical issues, such as inequalities and economic well-being. COVID-19 has plunged the world economy into deep contraction and, like many other crises, it is hitting the poorest, most disadvantaged, and most vulnerable the hardest. The pandemic has also reminded us all that a global crisis requires a global response. 

The world has made significant progress since the late 1990s, but HIV remains a major global health crisis that has been further deepened by COVID-19. The UNAIDS annual report shows that HIV services have been worryingly disrupted due to COVID-19, particularly in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) where health systems are more fragile. The HIV/AIDS response could be set back by 10 years or more, if COVID-19 leads to severe disruptions to HIV services, leaving many at greater risk of HIV infection and AIDS-related deaths. 

With this in mind, the theme of World AIDS Day 2020 is “Global solidarity, shared responsibility”. The world needs global solidarity and shared responsibility now to beat the epidemics of HIV and pandemic of COVID-19. 

For this to happen, here are three things that the world leaders need to do NOW.

  • Fully fund the global response against COVID-19 while protecting and increasing other life-saving health programmes. World leaders must commit to fully fund the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A) without diverting investments from other health priorities, including HIV/AIDS. US$5.1 billion has been committed to the ACT-A to date. US$4.2 billion is still needed urgently, with another US$23.9 billion needed by the end of 2021. We must look beyond scarce development assistance budgets to fund the ACT-A. Official development assistance (ODA) is a precious resource that we must increase rather than decrease at a time of rising need in LMICs. Fully resourcing the ACT-A is not a matter of charity; it is an investment in the world’s recovery. Governments should use a portion of their domestic fiscal stimulus for the multilateral response against COVID-19, while increasing investment in other life-saving global health programmes. 
  • Invest in pandemic preparedness and prevention. Health systems must be urgently strengthened, in particular in LMICs in order to ensure all countries have the capacity to respond to COVID-19, HIV/AIDS, and other epidemics as well as prevent and be prepared for future epidemic threats. Other key pandemic preparedness and prevention priorities include accelerating global health research and development for epidemic-risk diseases and securing reliable access to personal protective equipment (PPE) and other pandemic supplies.
  • Ensure fair and equitable access to health tools globally. No-one can be left behind in accessing life-saving diagnostics, treatments, and vaccines. Errors of the past cannot be made again. Millions of people in LMICs died waiting for HIV treatment. Fully equitable access still isn’t a reality today. Due to lack of access to HIV services, 690,000 people died from HIV-related causes and 1.7 million people were newly infected last year. Fair and equitable access to all health commodities, including COVID-19 treatments, diagnostics, and future vaccines, must be urgently ensured. Global equity must be at the heart of the world’s response to COVID-19 by prioritising multilateral action over bilateral action and ensuring that distribution mechanisms and allocation frameworks are based on equitable terms. Products should be both accessible to LMICs as soon as they become available and suitable for LMIC settings.

 

COVID-19 has brought the world to its knees and has threatened decades of hard-won gains in the global HIV/AIDS response. However, this crisis is also an opportunity to do things differently and build back better. Every effort we make together in the fight against COVID-19 should leave a longer-term legacy that better prepares humanity to more effectively deal with outbreaks and pandemics, including HIV/AIDS.

What Happened at the Paris Peace Forum: Welcome Baby Steps, But So Much More Needed

By Isabelle De Lichtervelde

 

Last week during the third annual Paris Peace Forum, the European Commission, France, Spain, The Republic of Korea, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation together pledged US$360 million to COVAX, bringing the total committed to the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A) to over US$5.1 billion. But an additional US$4.2 billion is still needed urgently, with another US$23.9 billion needed by the end of 2021.

At the Pandemic Action Network, we welcome leaders continuing to step up to fund the ACT-A. However, the road ahead is still very long and funding is still urgently required for the global response.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the European Commission (EC) has shown much-needed leadership in multilateral efforts to fight COVID-19. EC President Ursula von der Leyen committed an additional €100 million to COVAX at this year’s Paris Peace Forum, reminding delegates that the ACT-A US$28.4 billion funding gap is equivalent to “the same sum the transport sector and the global tourism sector lose in just two days of lockdown”.

But not all the money pledged last week was new. “We aren’t going to beat the virus if we abandon part of humanity,” French President Emmanuel Macron rightly said. But the French president hasn’t quite put his money where his mouth is yet. The €100 million from France and €50 million from Spain that were pledged on the second day of the conference are pledges that had already been announced several months ago. Although the clarification that this money will be allocated to COVAX’s Advanced Market Commitment (AMC) helps provide much needed transparency, and confirms that the funds will help low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) secure vaccines, clarifying past pledges is not the level of ambition needed to end the COVID-19 pandemic.

Erna Solberg, Prime Minister of Norway and co-chair of the ACT-A Facilitation Council, said: “We have to look beyond aid for financing. We need to look at private sector, innovative mechanisms, other ways to get this money, fast. We need to accelerate this faster than we are doing these days.” The world urgently needs to look for other sources of financing in order to fill the ACT-A funding gap. Crucially, countries must look beyond limited official development assistance (ODA) envelopes and not divert ODA from other lifesaving programmes in developing countries.

Working together is the only way out of the pandemic. The ACT-A is our greatest hope to end the crisis as quickly as possible, and will benefit everyone around the world. It is also the best investment every country can make – national economies would see the return on investment in less than 36 hours once global mobility and trade can be safely restored.

Against the ACT-A’s US$38.1 billion total needs, US$5.1 billion has been committed to date, alongside down payments of US$4.8 billion through COVAX self-financing countries. To accelerate the end to the greatest global health crisis in our history, leaders must act boldly and quickly.

Will EU Leaders Act as Pandemic Preventers at Their First Face-to-Face Meeting This Week?

Will EU leaders act as pandemic preventers at their first face-to-face meeting this week?

On 17-18 July, EU leaders will meet for their first face-to-face European Council meeting since the beginning of the pandemic. They will discuss the EU recovery plan to respond to the COVID-19 crisis and the next long-term EU budget.

As they meet in Brussels, European leaders must lead by example by covering their face to protect those around them and encourage all EU citizens to follow suit. In their negotiations, they must ensure that the global COVID-19 response and pandemic preparedness and prevention efforts are protected and even increased. Proposed cuts to Heading VI (external action envelope) must be rejected.

Face mask use results in a large reduction in risk of infection. In the absence of a vaccine or medicine to fight COVID-19, hand hygiene, social distancing and mask wearing are the best tools we have against the disease. A simple barrier over the mouth and nose, even one that’s homemade, can trap the respiratory droplets that an infected person may release (including asymptomatic and presymptomatic individuals) and hence stop the virus from traveling onto other people. EU leaders should set an example for their citizens and encourage them to cover their face in public to become pandemic preventers. Giving the advice to wear a mask or homemade cloth face covering costs nothing; not doing so costs lives.

As they discuss the EU’s COVID-19 recovery plan and next 7-year budget, EU leaders must protect vital support to the global response to COVID-19 under the Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI) and under the Humanitarian Aid Instrument. They must reject proposed cuts to EU aid in President Michel’s most recent negotiating box. EU Member States should endorse the Commission’s May 2020 proposal of €118 billion for Heading VI (external action envelope).        

They should also commit in the Council Conclusions to support the adoption of a global plan on pandemic preparedness and prevention to ensure that every country has the capacity to detect, prevent and respond to future outbreaks before they become deadly and costly pandemics and signal Europe’s willingness to invest billions today to save trillions tomorrow.

COVID-19 doesn’t recognise borders. Until we get rid of this disease globally everyone – including EU citizens – will be at risk. It is also essential that the world’s response to COVID-19 leaves a legacy for the future. Once and for all, we must break the deadly and costly cycle of panic and neglect that has left the world so vulnerable to pandemic threats.

What We Want to Hear from G20 Finance Ministers This Week: A Commitment to Invest Billions Today, to Save Trillions Tomorrow, and to Make It Equitable

Nobody had expected that 2020 would be the year of humanity’s worst crisis since World War II. Yet experts had repeatedly warned of the risk of a pandemic for over a decade, urging leaders to prioritise preparedness efforts. The majority of them simply didn’t listen, and when the first case of COVID-19 emerged, the world wasn’t prepared for it.

COVID-19 will not be the last new disease to appear and take advantage of our interconnected world to flourish. What we’ve been going through this year could (and will) happen again if we don’t invest in pandemic preparedness and prevention. Our leaders must not fail us another time. They must act now to prepare for a brighter and more resilient future for everyone, everywhere.

Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors from the G20 will be meeting this week. Here are three things they should commit to rid the world of COVID-19, deliver equitable access to innovations, and prevent future pandemics:

  • Close the funding gap to meet the ACT-Accelerator needs. The overall costs for the ACT-Accelerator published on 26 June are set at $31.3bn for the next 12 months, with an urgent funding need of $13.7bn, which the world needs to raise as soon as possible for crucial upstream investments. It is vital to provide the ACT-Accelerator with the funding it needs to secure urgent COVID-19 tools like vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics, invest in health systems strengthening and crucially get them to every corner of the world, regardless of personal or national wealth.
  • Urgently provide life-saving humanitarian assistance to Africa CDC and other regional humanitarian hubs to ensure frontline access to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and other vital supplies in vulnerable countries with the greatest need.
  • Commit to an urgent, time-bound, transparent and credible process for the adoption and full financing of a global compact for pandemic preparedness and prevention. Once and for all, we must break the deadly and costly cycle of panic and neglect that has left the world so vulnerable to pandemic threats. We urgently need a plan to ensure that every country has the capacity to detect, prevent and respond to future outbreaks before they become deadly and costly pandemics.

 

COVID-19 is strongly imperiling progress towards the SDGs. The G20 must act fast to put to the world back on track and ensure no one is left behind.

What Germany’s Leadership Can Achieve Over the Next Six Months

On July 1, Germany will take over the Presidency of the Council of the EU. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced Germany to radically revise its priorities for a ‘crisis’ presidency, but it is also an opportunity for the country to show strong leadership on the EU stage, and most importantly on the world stage. The German leadership will be central to ensure Europe’s, and the world’s, response to COVID-19 is global and equitable and invests in a resilient future to ensure this never happens again.

The programme of the 6-month German EU Presidency hasn’t been published yet, but last week Germany, Portugal and Slovenia presented their joint EU presidency programme for the next 18 months. 

The German Chancellor, French President and leaders of Spain, Poland, Belgium and Denmark already wrote to the European Commission in early June stating that they want a ‘common European approach’ to preparing for future pandemics.

This has already spurred the EU into action, with a communication on pandemic preparedness expected from the European Commission in the Autumn. We should expect a heavy emphasis on PPE supplies, stockpiling, harmonising data so the disease and policy impact can be more easily tracked and looking at where the EU system in particular failed. We will be working hard to make sure global equity is at the heart of any work Germany drives forward. 

Below are some key opportunities over the next 6 months. It will be up to the German Presidency to shepherd the following big initiatives from the EU:

  • A Global compact. Once and for all, we must break the deadly and costly cycle of panic and neglect that has left the world so vulnerable to pandemic threats. The world needs a global, costed plan that will provide a roadmap out of COVID-19 and other pandemic threats for good. Chancellor Angela Merkel has already expressed her commitment to pandemic preparedness. She should seize the opportunity of the EU presidency to make this a reality. Germany should use the forthcoming meetings of the G20, the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board and the 75th anniversary of the UN in September to develop a global Compact to ensure we don’t repeat the errors of the past and invest in a better, more resilient future for everyone.
  • A Resilience 7-year budget. The Council of ministers and the European Parliament are currently negotiating the EU’s next 7-year budget – the so-called the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF). The European Commission made an ambitious new proposal in May (read our analysis here). The German presidency should seek to maximise pandemic preparedness and prevention within the MFF as well as globally. The European Commission proposed to use its strong credit rating to borrow up to €750 billion in low interest loans at long maturities on the market to finance its EU Recovery Plan. The EU should consider doing the same to invest in the Global Compact, to step up support to the poorest countries to make the necessary investments in national health security action plans and more resilient health systems.
  • A EU Vaccine Strategy for everyone, not just for Europeans. Last week the EU launched a new Vaccine Strategy (read our response here). While the strategy at its core has the objective of securing the necessary volumes of a safe vaccine for EU citizens at a good price, the EC also expressed its commitment to make it accessible for all the regions of the world. The German Presidency should urgently build on that commitment and make it a global mechanism. A norm should be set whereby high income countries reserve an additional amount of vaccines equivalent to their own populations (doubling their commitment) for people in low and middle income countries who struggle to secure enough vaccines for their own populations.
  • A stronger World Health Organization. Germany has put WHO on the agenda of its presidency and is committed to give the EU and its Member States a stronger voice in the UN agency leading on global health. Increasing EU leadership and financial support for WHO will be more important than ever in light of the unfortunate USG announcement to withdraw. The German presidency should ensure that the forthcoming review of the COVID-19 response is inclusive and leads to meaningful reforms, including increasing transparency and accountability of WHO Member States and providing reliable funding.  A stronger WHO is essential for more effective global pandemic preparedness and response.

All eyes will be on Germany as of July 1. The country has a strong opportunity to build a better future for everyone everywhere, the Pandemic Action Network looks forward to working with Chancellor Merkel and her team to make this happen.