The COVID-19 virus might not discriminate between rich and poor — but its consequences can have different devastating effects depending on the strength of a country’s health system.
In Britain, research has warned that the National Health Service — one of the world’s largest employers — could be quickly overwhelmed by the pandemic. But how do you stop the virus ripping through a poorer population lacking the same level of infrastructure?
That’s where Gavi comes in.
Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, was founded 20 years ago at the World Economic Forum in Davos. It works to strengthen the health systems of the world’s poorest countries and help deliver lifesaving vaccines — and has immunized 760 million children around the world, preventing more than 13 million deaths.
It’s been working away at building supply chains and developing an understanding on how to contain outbreaks since 2000. While the world hunts for a COVID-19 vaccine, Gavi is perfectly poised to provide a pivotal service during the pandemic to support the world’s poorest people.
In the fight against #COVID19, new data from @imperialcollege suggests a suppression strategy could save millions of lives in @Gavi-supported countries.— Global Health Strategies (@GHS) April 3, 2020
Read more: https://t.co/5Svo9LOxoIpic.twitter.com/OVx4eRze2f
The global health agency is a coalition of partnerships within the private and public sectors. It’s already repositioning itself to maximize what it can do to fight the pandemic — and once dealt with, it has big plans to continue its mission to vaccinate every child, no matter where they were born.
In June, there’s an opportunity for governments and corporations to help at a digital replenishment conference, which was originally due to take place in London, where donors will have the chance to offer funding to support Gavi’s essential work over the next five years.
Here are four ways Gavi is already tackling the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic in the world’s poorest countries.
1. Providing trusted information
After two decades of working with communities in the hardest to reach places, Gavi has built up the most valuable kind of currency: trust.
Gavi has developed relationships with families and community health workers all over the world, relationships that are essential in communicating health messaging in a way that's trusted by those families.
That means Gavi can convey vital, verified public health information about COVID-19, as well as deliver life-saving treatment services and carry out surveillance of diseases.
The systems have already been built. Gavi knows how to use them.
2. Diverting funding
Gavi works to strengthen health systems with grants to low-income countries that must be used to invest in its infrastructure.
With COVID-19 now affecting some 60 Gavi-supported countries, the alliance has taken new steps to help strengthen the preparedness of health and immunization systems in low-income countries.
Gavi countries will now be able to reallocate 10% of their health system strengthening grants to invest in tackling COVID-19 — through surveillance; buying protective equipment for health workers; increasing testing capabilities, and improving their abilities to track the virus.
Gavi is continuing to explore further ways to help low-income countries be as rapid and flexible as possible in their response to coronavirus.
I have witnessed firsthand the resilience, determination and courage health workers display as they fight diseases and protect communities. They are the lifeblood of @Gavi’s immunization campaigns and now in the fight against this pandemic. Thank you. https://t.co/z1NULV0n2p— Seth Berkley (@GaviSeth) April 2, 2020
3. Fighting other outbreaks
The world will struggle to survive a war on multiple fronts.
While governments get to grips with the pandemic, there’s a real chance that work to combat other health threats might diminish. If that happens, then it might not be COVID-19 that overwhelms health systems — it could be other diseases ready to fly under the radar.
For example, while 2,000 people died in the last Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) from 2018-2020, a further 5,000 were killed by measles — a vaccine-preventable virus. Over 90% of those who died were children. Gavi's work is essential to ensuring such an avoidable tragedy is never repeated again.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Gavi will be continuing its essential work to provide routine immunization in the world’s poorest countries — helping prevent outbreaks of other deadly diseases like measles, cholera, and whooping cough.
Protecting communities from other vaccine-preventable diseases will reduce the burden on health systems — essential to ensure health workers can focus on cases of COVID-19 — and enable health care workers to more effectively respond to coronavirus.
4. Getting vaccines to the most vulnerable people
Although human trials have already begun, it’s going to take at least 18 months before a COVID-19 vaccine is available to roll out across the world — the fastest such a vaccine would ever have been developed in history.
But when it’s ready, Gavi will be too: adopting decades of experience to secure enough vaccines for the world’s most vulnerable communities — and ensuring they’re successfully delivered to wherever they’re needed most.
Gavi has said that it’s committed to accelerating its development and supporting the delivery of the vaccine when it’s ready. It will work with the World Health Organization (WHO), the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), the World Bank, UNICEF, and other partners to make sure priority candidates get their vaccine as soon as possible.
🇬🇧 The UK is leading global efforts to develop a #coronavirus vaccine.#UKaid is funding urgent vaccine research through @CEPIvaccines and is a leading supporter of @Gavi, the global vaccine alliance. pic.twitter.com/LNmT6bH6FF— DFID (@DFID_UK) April 4, 2020
You can join the global efforts to limit the spread and impact of COVID-19 coronavirus by taking urgent action through our "Together At Home" campaign. There, you can find actions like calling on world leaders to step up funding to fight COVID-19; learning more about the virus and how to keep yourself healthy; and urging leaders to ensure the world’s most vulnerable people aren’t being left behind.
You can see all of Global Citizen's COVID-19 coverage here.