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Leaders unite to ensure access to new vaccines, tests, treatments for COVID-19

Heads of state and global health leaders on Friday, April 24, 2020 made what looks like an unprecedented commitment to work together to accelerate the development and production of new vaccines, tests and treatments for COVID-19 and assure equitable access worldwide.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO). Photo credit: AFP / FABRICE COFFRINI / Getty Images

The COVID-19 pandemic has already affected more than 2.4 million people, killing over 160,000. It is reportedly taking a huge toll on families, societies, health systems and economies around the world, and putting mankind at risk.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there is an urgent need, therefore, while following existing measures to keep people physically distanced and to test and track all contacts of people who test positive, for innovative COVID-19 vaccines, diagnostics and treatments.

“We will only halt COVID-19 through solidarity,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “Countries, health partners, manufacturers, and the private sector must act together and ensure that the fruits of science and research can benefit everybody.”

Work started since January, says the WHO, adding that it has been working with researchers from hundreds of institutions to develop and test vaccines, standardise assays and standardise regulatory approaches on innovative trial designs and define criteria to prioritize vaccine candidates.

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The organisation disclosed that it has prequalified diagnostics that are being used all over the world, and more are in the pipeline. It adds that it is coordinating a global trial to assess the safety and efficacy of four therapeutics against COVID-19.

The challenge, says the UN health organisation, is to speed up and harmonise processes to ensure that once products are deemed safe and effective, they can be brought to the billions of people in the world who need them. Past experience, in the early days of HIV treatment, for example, and in the deployment of vaccines against the H1N1 outbreak in 2009, shows that even when tools are available, they have not been equally available to all.

So leaders came together on Friday at a virtual event co-hosted by the WHO, the President of France, the President of the European Commission, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The event was joined by the UN Secretary General, the AU Commission Chairperson, the G20 President, heads of state of France, South Africa, Germany, Vietnam, Costa Rica, Italy, Rwanda, Norway, Spain, Malaysia and the UK (represented by the First Secretary of State).

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Health leaders from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), GAVI-the Vaccine Alliance, the Global Fund, UNITAID, the Wellcome Trust, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement (IFRC), the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers (IFPMA), the Developing Countries Vaccine Manufacturers’ Network (DCVMN), and the International Generic and Biosimilar Medicines Association (IGBA) committed to come together, guided by a common vision of a planet protected from human suffering and the devastating social and economic consequences of COVID-19, to launch the collaboration. They are joined by two Special Envoys:  Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Gavi Board Chair and Sir Andrew Witty, former CEO of GlaxoSmithKline.

They pledged to work towards equitable global access based on an unprecedented level of partnership. They agreed to create a strong unified voice, to build on past experience and to be accountable to the world, to communities and to one another.

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“Our shared commitment is to ensure all people have access to all the tools to prevent, detect, treat and defeat COVID-19,” said Dr Tedros. “No country and no organization can do this alone. The Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator brings together the combined power of several organizations to work with speed and scale.”

Health leaders called on the global community and political leaders to support the collaboration and for donors to provide the necessary resources to accelerate achievement of its objectives, capitalising on the opportunity provided by a forthcoming pledging initiative that starts on May 4, 2020.

The initiative, spearheaded by the European Union, aims to mobilise the significant resources needed to accelerate the work towards protecting the world from COVID-19.

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