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World economic and health leaders call for $50bn investment to end Covid-19 pandemic

International Monetary Fund (IMF) managing director Kristalina Georgieva speaks during a press conference at the end of the Summit on the Financing of African Economies in Paris, France, 18 May 2021. (Keystone/EPA/Ludovic Marin)

Tuesday was a jam packed day for talks on international cooperation, vaccine access and ending the Covid-19 pandemic. The heads of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Trade Organization(WTO) called on high income countries to provide $50bn in funding, a figure they believe would help accelerate the Covid-19 vaccine distribution to all corners of the Earth.

In an op-ed signed by IMF managing director Kristalina Georgieva, WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, World Bank president David Malpass and WTO director general Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the economic and health leaders called on wealthy G7 nations ahead of their summit next week to help “vaccinate the world”.

The appeal stated that “cooperation on trade is also needed to ensure free cross-border flows and increasing supplies of raw materials and finished vaccines”, claiming that a $50bn investment is needed to accelerate the end to the pandemic, which in turn could generate about $9 trillion in additional global output by 2025.

The $50bn is “a relatively modest investment by governments in comparison to the trillions spent on national stimulus plans and lost trillions in foregone economic output”, they stressed.

At a press conference on Tuesday with all four leaders, Malpass said: “My immediate priority is for countries that have sufficient supply to quickly release doses to countries that have vaccination deployment programs.”

According to the multilateral lender chief, the organisation has about $12bn available to finance vaccines, being able to fork out “more if needed”, to help countries distribute Covid vaccines and end the pandemic as soon as possible.

“It's vital that we speed up the supply chain. We need to shorten the time from the manufacturing of the vaccine to shots in arms,” Malpass said.

Okonjo-Iweala also explained that there are currently major bottlenecks to vaccine access, due to constraints on the manufacturing capacity, access to raw materials, technological transfer, and know-how.

For the WTO leader, in addition to the $50bn, “we need more cooperation on trade”, making a case for how Covid increased trading activities.

“For instance… the value of trade in medical supplies rose by 16 per cent, trading Covid relevant products such as mass ventilator sterilisers and ultrasonic scanners increased by 31 per cent, trading test kits and diagnostic reagents grew by over 40 per cent,” she added.

Initially the multi-billion dollar plan was calculated and developed by the IMF in mid-May this year. At the briefing, managing director Georgieva said “vaccine policy is economic policy,” adding that the organisation could finance $35bn of the proposed $50bn project needed to ramp up vaccinations.

“You may ask why is the IMF concerned with vaccinations?” Georgieva said.

“We are deeply concerned because an increasingly two-track pandemic is causing a two-track economic recovery –with negative consequences for all countries.”

The IMF-proposed plans will aim to vaccinate at least 40 per cent of the global population by the close of the year and 60 per cent by mid-2022.

Covax summit. The push for pandemic resources comes one day ahead of a landmark summit for WHO-backed Covax, the equitable vaccine sharing scheme which plans to “raise critical new funds… to further diversify its portfolio and buy additional vaccines for low- and lower-middle-income countries”, WHO chief Ghebreyesus said.

The event hosted by Japan aims to raise $2bn from donors and the private sector in hopes to speed up access to 1.8bn Covid vaccines for low-income countries.

Beyond this the WHO and its Covax partners, such as the vaccine alliance Gavi, have been calling on nations to donate their surplus Covid vaccines. On Tuesday New Zealand gave 1.6 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to six Pacific countries: Fiji, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste, and Tuvalu.

Sinovac given the green light.  Also, on Tuesday the WHO approved China’s two-dose Sinovac, also known as the CoronaVac vaccine, for emergency use.

The Sinovac becomes the second Chinese vaccine to receive the go-ahead from WHO, after Sinopharm, with this emergency listing paving the way for the vaccine to be used in the Covax scheme, whilst also easing regulatory approval in other countries.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Ghebreyesus welcomed the vaccine’s approval, highlighting its storage qualities which require only “low resource settings”, in comparison to other Covid vaccines such as Moderna and Pfizer BioNtech, which need to be kept frozen for long-term storage.

“The world desperately needs multiple Covid-19 vaccines to address the huge access inequity across the globe,” Dr Mariângela Simão, WHO’s assistant director general for access to health products, said in a statement.

Emerging economies join calls for more vaccines. As the G7 fast approaches, foreign ministers of the world’s five major emerging economies, Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, also known as the BRICS, held a virtual meeting on Tuesday focusing on Covid-19 cooperation. In a joint statement released straight after, ministers reaffirmed the need “to use all relevant measures during the pandemic” including  “supporting ongoing consideration in WTO on a COVID-19 vaccine Intellectual Property Rights waiver.”

In October last year, India and South Africa submitted a proposal calling on the WTO to agree to a temporary Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) waiver to increase equitable access to treatments, technologies, vaccines and therapeutics relating to Covid-19.

So far the campaign is supported by about 100 countries including the US. In the press briefing on Tuesday, the WTO chief stated “we know that there’s the TRIPS waiver debate going on at the WTO and while I cannot take sides, we need to get to a conclusion on this debate, promote technology transfer and know-how to get lasting increases in production capacity”.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has been invited to the G7 meeting next week, which will discuss how to end the Covid pandemic.

The ministers of the BRICS nations noted that the pandemic has manifested itself as one of the most serious global challenges in recent history, which requires an “effective and representative” multilateral system, with the statement focusing on reforms of the UN, IMF, World Bank, WTO and the WHO.

The ministers reaffirmed their support for “strengthening and reforming the multilateral system” encompassing “instruments of global governance [that are] more inclusive, representative and participatory to facilitate greater and more meaningful participation of developing and least developed countries.”