Just days after officially declaring COVID-19 coronavirus to be a pandemic earlier this month, the World Health Organization (WHO) launched its COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund, with the aim of ensuring that every country in the world is able to tackle the outbreak.
According to the WHO, the “first-of-its-kind” fund is designed to allow any business, institution, or individual to donate directly to the organization to fund its efforts to tackle COVID-19 in countries around the world.
“We are at a critical point in the global response to COVID-19 – we need everyone to get involved in this massive effort to keep the world safe,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO, when the Solidarity Response Fund launched on March 13.
This fund will be a vital part of tackling coronavirus and leading the global recovery in the coming months. Here’s everything you need to know about it.
What is the WHO?
The World Health Organization (WHO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations, responsible for international public health. It focuses on monitoring public health risks, coordinating responses to health emergencies, and promoting human health and well being.
It also provides technical assistance to countries, sets international health standards and guidelines, and collects and shares data on global health issues through the World Health Survey.
How does the WHO support vulnerable countries?
As well as its global work on the COVID-19 pandemic response, the WHO has decades of experience providing health care support to vulnerable nations and regions – which has been its role since it was founded in 1948.
The WHO has been instrumental in tackling diseases, such as malaria, tuberculosis, and other "diseases of poverty", which still claim lives in developing countries despite having been almost eradicated in wealthier nations.
It has also played a vital role in dealing with other pandemics in the past. It has sent staff to the frontline to respond to outbreaks of HIV, Ebola, and dengue fever across Asia and Africa, for example. Like with the coronavirus response, the WHO does this by training doctors, providing supplies, engaging with communities, improving diagnosis, and data collection to track outbreaks, among other important tasks.
When was the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund set up?
The fund was launched on March 13, two days after COVID-19 was officially declared a pandemic. It was launched with support of the UN Foundation and the Swiss Philanthropy Foundation, which helped set the fund up and are administering the donations.
Why was it launched?
The COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund was established to provide a straightforward way for individual people, corporations, nonprofits and other organizations to directly donate to the World Health Organization’s efforts to tackle COVID-19.
The WHO works globally, with 7,000 staff across 150 countries. It’s focus during this crisis is on helping countries with weaker health systems implement the public health recommendations laid out in the WHO’s COVID-19 Strategic Response Plan.
That means helping countries prevent the virus spreading by identifying and mitigating risks, detecting how many cases there are, and ensuring that healthcare workers have the medicine and equipment they need to care for patients. Funding will also go towards research and development to speed up the creation of a vaccine.
How much funding is needed?
It is too early to tell as the crisis unfolds but it is expected the funds needed to support the global health response will be in the tens of billions.
Where does the money go?
In the first place, donations are received by the UN Foundation and Swiss Philanthropy Foundation before being distributed by the WHO and its partners to help countries respond to coronavirus. The vast majority of the financial resources needed will go to helping vulnerable and at-risk countries, the WHO says, especially those with weaker health systems, to prepare for, detect, and treat COVID-19.
The additional funds will help the WHO directly to fill in funding needs while coordinating the global response, the organisation adds, highlighting that the resources needed will also be evolving as the pandemic does.
What kinds of things will the money be used for?
The fund is essentially to support the WHO's global work in leading the response to COVID-19 — so helping countries to prepare and respond to the virus; tracking and understand its spread; making sure patients have access to treatment; and supporting frontline workers in accessing the essential supplies and information they need.
The funding will support numerous specific areas, including: providing protective equipment and supplies to medics; setting up intensive care units; building up lab capacity and providing testing kits; supporting research into vaccines and development of other products to help the response; and ensuring clear, accessible information is available to the public.
What has it done so far?
The WHO has already been able to make significant progress on leading the global response to the virus, and ensuring that governments, frontline workers, and patients have what they need.
According to the latest figures shared with Global Citizen this week, the WHO has shipped personal protective equipment (PPE) to 75 countries including over 800,000 surgical masks; 54,000 N95 face masks; 873,000 gloves; 85,000 gowns; 15,000 goggles; and 24,000 face shields.
It has also sent 1.5 million diagnostic kits to 126 countries, increasing their capacity – including countries in Africa, the Eastern Mediterrenean region, and the Americas.
The Solidarity Response Fund is also helping to improve access to information globally, both for the public and for responders. The WHO has developed six multilingual online courses and one simulation exercise that has reached 176,000 responders to help build the global capacity to tackle the virus. By March 19, over 323,000 people had enrolled in the WHO's COVID-19 online courses.
How can I help?
There are a few ways that you can help support the WHO's COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund. You can choose to contribute to the fund financially, and you can find out more about how to do that here.
You can also join our Together At Home campaign to take action to support the fund by calling on the European Union and other G20 states — the world's strongest economies — to urgently pledge new funds to the Solidarity Response Fund and support the global effort. Through our campaign you can also take action by sharing news about the Solidarity Response Fund on social media.
You can also find more actions to take on the Together At Home page to support the global response to coronavirus — such as calling on European governments to protect and support refugees; finding out more about the virus and how to keep yourself and others healthy; and urging individual governments to step up funding.
You can see all of Global Citizen's COVID-19 coverage here.