The UK government has pledged £200 million in aid funding to support the World Health Organization (WHO), UN agencies, and international nonprofits to help step up the COVID-19 response in developing countries.
The funds will go towards supporting vulnerable countries that lack robust health systems in place to track the disease and handle infections, the UK's Department for International Development (DfID) said, announcing the funding on Sunday.
Some of the money will go to Yemen, for example, which has been badly affected by ongoing conflict, and where 80% of the population are already in need of humanitarian assistance.
Another country to be supported by the funding is Bangladesh, which hosts 850,000 Rohingya refugees who are living mostly in crowded, unsanitary camps where the disease could take hold and quickly become a humanitarian crisis.
The UK's Secretary for International Development Anne-Marie Trevelyan said that slowing the spread of infection elsewhere would in turn help prevent a future second wave of the virus reaching the UK.
“While our brilliant doctors and nurses fight coronavirus at home, we’re deploying British expertise and funding around the world to prevent a second deadly wave reaching the UK,” Trevelyan said.
“Coronavirus does not respect country borders so our ability to protect the British public will only be effective if we strengthen the healthcare systems of vulnerable developing countries too,” she added.
The £200 million announced on Sunday brings the total amount of UK aid committed to fighting coronavirus to £744 million, making the country one of the largest donors to the international response, according to DfID.
Of the total announced on Sunday, £130 million will go to supporting the work of UN agencies, including £65 million for the WHO; £50 million will go to the Red Cross to help war-torn areas; and the remaining £20 million will go to support other smaller organisations and charities, the press statement from DfID said.
Among other things, the resourcing will go towards helping countries to identify patients with coronavirus and treating them separately; it will fund the installation of hand-washing stations and treatment centres in refugee camps; and will increase access to clean water in conflict zones.
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO, said: “COVID-19 has demonstrated it has no regard for borders, ethnicities, ideologies, or the size of a country’s economy."
He added: “The UK’s generous contribution is a strong statement that this is a global threat that demands a global response... We are all in this together, which means protecting health around the world will help to protect the health of people in the UK.”
Alexander Mattheou, an executive director at the British Red Cross, added that the size of the grant shows the “gravity of the challenge ahead.”
He continued: “The virus may not discriminate, but it hits vulnerable communities – those lacking healthcare, sanitation, and food – the hardest."