WHO Solidarity Fund Raises over $242 million From Global Community
Elizabeth Cousens, CEO of the UN Foundation

Over 662,000 people, hundreds of corporations and organisations from 190 countries have donated $242 million to the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund in the past year, according to Elizabeth Cousens, CEO of the UN Foundation.

Addressing the World Health Organization (WHO) biweekly media briefing on Monday, the first anniversary of the fund, Cousens said the fund had been a demonstration of global solidarity.

“In just six weeks, we raised more than $200 million, and to date the fund has dispersed more than $226 million, making it one of the top donors to WHO’s COVID-19 response,” said Cousens.

Donors included “online gamers (who) ran livestream marathons generating hundreds of thousands of dollars, celebrities, fitness gurus, musicians, artists, athletes, children, even the Minions”, said Cousens, who was assisted to set up the fund by the Swiss Philanthropy Foundation.

Fund Covers Millions of Items of PPE, COVID Tests and ICU Beds

Thanking all those who had donated, WHO Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that the fund had enabled the WHO to ship “more than 250 million items of personal protective equipment, provide technical support to hundreds of labs, supply more than 250 million COVID-19 tests, coordinate the deployment of more than 180 teams and missions, deliver oxygen and support over 12,000 intensive care beds to prevent health systems from being overwhelmed”.

Expressing his heartfelt thanks, Mike Ryan, WHO’s Executive Director of Health Emergencies Programme, admitted that funds for the pandemic had been extremely tight a year ago.

“This time last year was a very, very difficult time. Funding was very sparse. Everyone was reacting in different ways. The creation of the fund, and the fact that companies and institutions and individuals people out there just reached into their pockets and put money into this response, provided a vital lifeline for many organisations,” said Ryan.

However, Cousens and Tedros appealed for more donations as many countries were struggling to finance their COVID-19 vaccine programmes.

Countries Should Continue to Vaccinate With AstraZeneca 

WHO Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan

The WHO repeated its advice to countries to continue to vaccinate people with the AstraZeneca vaccine, despite safety concerns.

This follows the suspension of vaccinations with AstraZeneca in Denmark, Norway, Iceland and Bulgaria and Austria, Italy, Estonia, Latvia, Luxembourg and Lithuania stopping the use of vaccines from the most recent batches after reports of serious blood clots among 30 of the 5 million people vaccinated. 

During the course of this week, the WHO’s Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety and the European Medicine Agency would issue reports about the safety of the AstraZeneca vaccine after examining all the data, said WHO Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan.

“In European and the UK, more than 17 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccines were administered so far,” said Swaminathan. “The recommendation is that the risk benefit of not vaccinating using AstraZeneca vaccines is outweighed by the risk of the COVID-19 infection.”

‘No Association’ Found Between Vaccine and Adverse Events

“If you remember, there was an initial scare about excess deaths amongst the elderly that was reported from Norway and then it was clarified that it was not really excess deaths. It was just a normal, expected rate of deaths.”

She added that “people do get thrombo-embolic events, pulmonary embolisms, and people die every day”.

“So the question really is the linkage with the vaccine and this is why we need to look at all of the data, and the experts are looking at the data. So far, we do not find an association between these events, and the vaccine, because the rates at which these events have occurred in the vaccinated group are in fact less than what you would expect in the general population at the same time,” stressed Swaminathan.

Although at least 300 million vaccine doses had been administered worldwide, not one documented death has been linked to a COVID-19 vaccine, she concluded.

Vaccine Passports Must Not ‘Create Inequity’

Mike Ryan, Executive Director of WHO Health Emergencies Programme.

While the European Union is expected to issue guidelines this week on a digital “green passport” allowing people who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 to move freely in the EU, Ryan warned of the human rights consequences of such a move.

While the concept of digital registration of health information, including vaccination records, was “a very positive thing within national health systems”, said Ryan, such a policy should not create inequity particularly given the unequal access to vaccines at present.

“We need to be very, very careful that the process of certifying vaccination does not result in personal freedoms, or human rights being impeded in any way that is not justified,” said Ryan.

There has to be a “very strong justification” for any health measure to be mandatory “and then whether or not someone has the right to do certain things after vaccination again requires deep thought on the ethical and human rights issues at the centre of this,” he added.


Image Credits: WHO.

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