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AfGH response to Prime Minister’s speech to UN General Assembly

The UK has pledged up to £571 million to COVAX, an effort led by the World Health Organization (WHO) to develop, manufacture and distribute COVID-19 vaccines evenly across the world. This involves coordinating the COVAX Facility, a global collaboration to buy COVID-19 vaccines, once developed, and distribute them as equally as possible. Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the generous pledge at the United Nations General Assembly this Saturday, warning “everyone will lose” unless world leaders unify and cooperate in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

In a pre-recorded speech for the assembly, the UK’s four-year commitment to the WHO of £340 million was also announced. He added: “[The] UK supports the efforts of the World Health Organization and of my friend, Tedros, to explore the aetiology of the disease, because however great the need for reform, the WHO, the World Health Organization, is still the one body that marshals humanity against the legions of disease.”

Action for Global Health welcomes the UK’s continuing commitment to international cooperation in the COVID-19 response and ensuring access to a COVID-19 vaccine for all. We also particularly welcome the operational funding pledged to the WHO, which plays an integral role supporting and guiding how countries across the globe respond to the myriad challenges that COVID-19 brings and also how they prevent, treat and protect their citizens from other diseases and promote good health.

With support from donors like the UK, COVAX is set to become one of the biggest procurers of COVID-19 vaccines in the world. It is essential that this substantial market power is used to shape the market for the good of humanity and to secure the most affordable prices for, and equitable access to, COVID-19 vaccines, according to need. The UK Government can and should use its leverage as a key donor to ensure that the COVAX Facility delivers full transparency, guarantees affordable prices, maximises global supply and agrees to full civil society participation in the proposed governance bodies.

The Prime Minister also revealed plans to use the UK’s G7 Presidency next year to focus on a “global approach to health security” and a “five-point plan to protect humanity against another pandemic.”

Whilst this plan includes a welcome emphasis on global cooperation and better pandemic preparedness, the UK should extend these efforts to strengthening health systems globally and achieving universal health coverage; a commitment that the UK made at the UN General Assembly last year. In a world facing multiple health threats and crises, building resilient health systems must be the cornerstone of efforts to create a healthier world.