In one of the first concrete steps in an attempt to redress the huge inequalities revealed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Health Organization has announced the formal creation of a new $1 billion Financial Intermediate Fund (FIF) dollars to invest in helping the world – especially weak – and middle-income countries – build defenses against pandemics and epidemics.
The FIF Board of Directors officially created the new fund at a meeting in Washington, WHO announcement Friday. The new fund is hosted by the Washington-based World Bank under the technical direction of the Geneva-based WHO.
Its main objective is to provide long-term financing that fills critical gaps primarily in low- and middle-income countries. This too will serve as a platform to advocate for stronger health systems. The FIF plans to begin soliciting its first funding proposals in November.
“COVID-19 has highlighted the urgent need for action to strengthen health systems,” said World Bank Group President David Malpass. “Investing now will save lives and resources for years to come.”
The World Bank Board of Directors approved Creation of the FIF at the end of June. The World Bank serves as the trustee of the FIF and hosts its secretariat, which includes technical staff from WHO.
A Technical Advisory Group chaired by WHO will help guide the FIF Board on the substance of funding proposals, ensuring links to the International Health Regulations (IHR), the legally binding rules between nations to respond to global health emergencies like the coronavirus pandemic.
The new fund has been developed with the support of some of the major Group of 20 economies and has lined up over $1.4 billion in financial commitments.
The funding is intended to build laboratory capacity, emergency communication, zoonotic disease surveillance, pandemic coordination and management, workforce capacity and community engagement, according to the WHO.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has been a seismic shock to the world, but we also know that the next pandemic is only a matter of time,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. .
Countries that have made financial commitments to support the IFF include Australia, Canada, China, European Commission, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, United States. United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and United States.
Organizations that have pledged support include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation and Wellcome Trust.
Pandemic suffering ‘will be in vain’ unless there are lessons learned
Already the world is struggling with a repeat from some of the same challenges he faced during the pandemic as he navigated the public health emergency of monkeypox – and the continued stranglehold of wealthy countries on access to vaccines.
And more than a month after declaring monkeypox a public health emergency of international concern (USPPI), the WHO African Region has only received 39,000 test kits for the virus as vaccines and treatments remain unavailable on the continent where the disease is endemic and often deadlier.
The FIF aims to respond to critical funding issues which already began to emerge a few years ago. With COVID-19 vaccines, the multilateral financial facility COVAX was forced to stand back when it tried to lock in advance purchases because it lacked the up-front funds to make legal commitments to drugmakers.
The FIF board is also expected to include equal representation from sovereign donors, governments, foundations and civil society organizations.
Tedros said the suffering and loss that everyone has endured “will be in vain unless we learn the painful lessons of COVID-19 and put in place the necessary measures to close the critical gaps in global defenses against epidemics and pandemics”.
The new fund is one such key measure, he said, and the WHO “looks forward to fulfilling its technical leadership role in advising the IFF Board on the most effective investments to protect health, especially in low- and middle-income countries.”
Image credits: PMO Barbados.
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