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The UK Is Set to Become the Largest State Donor to the WHO to Help Fight COVID-19

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The UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson used his speech at the United Nations’ 2020 General Assembly (UNGA) to announce a 30% increase in funding to the World Health Organisation (WHO), it was reported on Saturday.

The UK will provide £340 million in funding over the next four years, which will make it the largest state donor to the WHO after the US withdraws its funding.

The WHO is a UN agency with the purpose of improving global health. It surveys emerging health issues in countries all over the world, and provides resources, advice, and programmes to combat them. In response to the spread of coronavirus, the agency launched the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund which is working to ensure tests, treatments, and any future vaccines are widely accessible and affordable for all. 

It is funded by UN member states like the UK and philanthropic donors, the largest of which is the Gates Foundation. 

The US President Donald Trump announced in May that he would pull funding from the WHO, following controversial criticism he made of the agency’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. The withdrawal of funding, which accounts for 20% of the agency’s budget, will come into effect from July 2021.

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Johnson told the UN assembly — which is taking place using pre-recorded messages and virtual meetings from Sept. 15 to Sept. 30 — that he wanted the international community to “reach across borders and repair the ugly rifts” that had emerged during the fight against coronavirus.

“After nine months of fighting COVID, the very notion of the international community looks tattered. We know that we cannot continue in this way,” he said.

“Here in the UK...  we are determined to do everything in our power to work with our friends across the UN to heal those divisions and to heal the world,” Johnson continued.

Johnson also used his speech to suggest that the WHO should have more power to demand reporting and data from countries about how they are handling the pandemic, and for there to be more data-sharing between countries to better understand health crises.

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He called for “a vast expansion of our ability to collect and analyse samples and distribute the findings, using health data-sharing agreements covering every country.” 

Johnson also used his speech to announce the UK's involvement in the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access (COVAX) Facility — a global collaboration that aims to ensure fair and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines when they become available. 

The COVAX Facility is managed by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, working closely with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness (CEPI). More than 170 countries have signed up to support the COVAX Facility so far, and it aims to have 2 billion doses of vaccines available by the end of 2021.

In an effort to prevent vaccine nationalism — the hoarding of vaccines by rich countries — the idea is that countries pool their resources to make sure vaccines reach those who need them most, wherever in the world they are. 

The UK will reportedly contribute an initial £71 million to secure 27 million vaccine doses for the UK. In addition, Britain is set to provide £500 million in aid funding for the COVAX advance market commitment — an international initiative to ensure that 92 of the world’s poorest countries can also access a vaccine for COVID-19.