New Pandemic Fund Created at World Bank
Barbados receives 33,600 doses of COVID-19 vaccines, its first shipment through the COVAX facility, in April 2021

In one of the first concrete measures to attempt to redress huge inequities exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Washington-based World Bank formally established a new billion-dollar financial intermediary fund (FIF) to invest in helping the world – particularly low- and middle-income countries – strengthen defenses against pandemics and epidemics.

FIF’s governing board officially set up the new fund at a meeting in Washington, the World Health Organization announced on Friday. The new fund is hosted by the World Bank with technical leadership from Geneva-based WHO.

Its main purpose is to provide long-term financing that fills critical gaps mainly in low- and middle-income countries. It also will serve as a platform to advocate for stronger health systems. FIF plans to start soliciting its first funding proposals in November.

“COVID-19 has highlighted the pressing need for action to build stronger health systems,” said World Bank Group President David Malpass. “Investing now will save lives and resources for the years to come.”

The World Bank’s board of directors approved FIF’s creation in late June. The World Bank serves as FIF’s trustee and hosts its Secretariat, which includes technical staff from WHO.

A technical advisory panel chaired by WHO will help guide FIF’s governing board on the merits of funding proposals, ensuring linkages to the International Health Regulations (IHR), the legally binding rules among nations for responding to global health emergencies like the coronavirus pandemic.

The new fund was developed with support from some of the Group of 20 major economies, and has lined up more than US$1.4 billion in financial commitments.

The financing is intended to strengthen capacity in labs, emergency communication, zoonotic disease surveillance, pandemic coordination and management, workforce capacities and community engagement, according to WHO.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has been a seismic shock to the world, but we also know that the next pandemic is a matter of when not if,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Nations that have made financial commitments to support the FIF include Australia, Canada, China, the European Commission, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, South Africa,  South Korea, Spain, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Organizations that have promised support include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation and Wellcome Trust.

Pandemic suffering ‘will be in vain’ unless there are lessons learned

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General

Already, the world is grappling with a repeat of some of the same challenges it has faced during the pandemic as it navigates the monkeypox public health emergency – and rich nations’ continued stronghold on access to vaccines.

And more than a month after declaring monkeypox a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC), WHO’s Africa Region has only received 39,000 test kits for the virus while vaccines and treatments remain unavailable on the continent where the disease is endemic and often more deadly.

FIF aims to address the critical funding problems that already began to emerge a couple years ago. With COVID-19 vaccines, the multilateral COVAX financial facility was forced to the back of the line when trying to lock in advance purchases because it lacked the upfront funds to make legal commitments to drug makers.

FIF’s governing board also is supposed to include equal representation from among sovereign donors, governments, foundations and civil society organizations.

Tedros said the suffering and loss everyone has endured “will be in vain unless we learn the painful lessons from COVID-19 and put in place the measures to fill critical gaps in the world’s defences against epidemics and pandemics.”

The new fund is one of those key measures, he said, and WHO “looks forward to fulfilling its technical leadership role in advising the FIF Board on where to make the most effective investments to protect health, especially in low- and middle-income countries.”

Image Credits: PMO Barbados.

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