Health

The EUs coronavirus pledge drive message is clear. The mission is not.

The EU is pitching a major fundraising event Monday as a way to put money where its mouth is, amassing cash to bring cutting-edge coronavirus discoveries to poor countries at the same time that rich ones get them.

Its an unsubtle contrast with U.S. President Donald Trump, who reportedly tried to score exclusive access to a new vaccine for Americans.

The Coronavirus Global Response Pledging Conference is expected to amass a lucrative total. But the decision to allow pledges that bundle in money spent since January 30 means the event risks looking more like a global public relations exercise than the engine for a new cohesive effort to fight the disease.

Led by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, the virtual get-together aims to raise €7.5 billion for vaccines, medicines and diagnostics to be developed for the coronavirus and made available all over the world.

World leaders are on board with the inclusive messaging. “The race to discover the vaccine to defeat this virus is not a competition between countries, but the most urgent shared endeavor of our lifetimes,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will tell the conference.

The host group comprises Italy, France, Germany, the U.K., Norway and Saudi Arabia. But Riyadhs participation makes for an awkward mix.

“Its precisely to avoid any health nationalism at a cruel level,” one senior Commission official told reporters last Thursday.

But while the EUs political commitments are clear, its means to keep them are not. The organizers — working under extreme time pressure — acknowledge theyre pushing ahead without rules and oversight measures fully in place.

Its unclear how much new money will actually be raised, how much has already been spent and whether governments will just shift funds originally intended for different aid efforts into their national pledge.

“We hope that donors will be conscientious when deciding where pledging money comes from and avoid double counting,” said Alva Finn, senior advocacy adviser at Save the Children.

The U.K.s pledge, on the eve of the conference, highlighted the impression that a significant part of the conference total will not in fact be new. Downing Street confirmed that the U.K. would pledge £388 million toward the total. But the money is part of a £744 million existing U.K. aid commitment, it said.

What began as a vague reference in late March to a vaccine funding drive has ballooned into a global solidarity festival to create and distribute new COVID-19 fixes. A core motivation is the fear that even EU countries will be left empty-handed when a vaccine, the key to returning to normal, finally becomes available.

“Making sure that the production of the vaccine does not end up taking place only in the U.S. or in a specific place, because the companies that produce vaccines are from a certain nationality, is the heart of the issue,” an aide to French President Emmanuel Macron told POLITICO.

Equal global distribution is also fundamental, the Elysée official added, namely to avoid giving one EU country a leg up over others — for example, “the French wouldnt understand if our German friends would get the vaccine before us” but equally, having Europe gain an advantage over more vulnerable populations.

Whos in and whos out?

The group of countries leading the effort — notable both for whos in and whos out — reflects the rapid reorganization of global leadership playing out in the three months since the pandemic was declared a public health emergency of international concern.

The host group comprises Italy, France, Germany, the U.K., Norway and Saudi Arabia. But Riyadhs participation makes for an awkward mix, given Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salmans increasingly authoritarian posture and the alleged 2018 murder of a U.S.-based journalist. The Commissions reasoning is that Saudi Arabia is invited due to its chairing of the G20 presidency.

Out of the €7.5 billion to be raised, €4 billion would be spent on vaccines, €2 billion on treatments and €1.5 billion on testing.

China, where the pandemic is thought to have started, will be among the countries making pledges.

However, the U.S. — which suspended funding to the WHO because Trump thought it colluded with China to hide the pandemics true extent — is staying out of it, at least for now.

Europe hopes to bring them into the fold.

“I still hope that perhaps the American government will join forces with us in one or the other way,” von der Leyen said in a TV interview on Friday.

If that doesnt work, the Elysée official reasoned, “there are very important American actors that are part of this initiative,” citing drugmakers and the Gates Foundation.

Equal access

Out of the €7.5 billion to be raised, €4 billion would be spent on vaccines, €2 billion on treatments and €1.5 billion on testing.

That top-line figure was identified in early March — before global lockdowns set in — by the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board, an independent group launched two years ago by the World Bank and the WHO. The GPMB called on groups like the G7 and G20 to fill this gap “immediately to address the most urgent threats.”

But civil society groups and donors have grumbled about a lack of clarity behind the conferences aims. Last week, a group of seven NGOs sent the European Commission a letter, obtained by POLITICO, calling for robust ways to guarantee that donations actually benefit the worlds poorest.

Theres also the question of the EUs political commitment to equal access. On April 24, the EU co-hosted a high-level event with the WHO to accelerate development of medical breakthroughs for COVID-19. Macron declared an “unprecedented partnership,” while von der Leyen said theres a need to deploy a vaccine at affordable prices in “every single corner of the world.”

But organizers havent nailed down how that actually happens.

“Theres a heck of a lot of homework to do, and people are working around the clock to clarify that,” said Ilona Kickbusch, a WHO adviser and member of the GPMB.

The aim isnt to create a new governance structure, the Commission insists, but a collaboration to make things happen as quickly as possible.

The work will be structured around three partnerships, which will include international organizations.

Lurking in the background is the question of what happens if a successful vaccine ends up coming from outside the organizations involved in the partnership.

Its up to the recipients of the cash — groups like the WHO, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance — to make sure the moneys well spent.

“High quality, low cost health technologies are not a dream,” reads a text signed by von der Leyen, European Council President Charles Michel, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, Frances Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg.

But it is not clear how Brussels will make sure of that, with the Commission also taking a hands-off approach to the thorny issue of drug pricRead More – Source

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