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Health

What Is UK Aid Doing to Fight Coronavirus Globally?

Why Global Citizens Should Care
The coronavirus outbreak has been declared a global public health emergency by the World Health Organization (WHO). The United Nations' Global Goal 3 works to achieve good health and well-being for all, which means urgently addressing issues worldwide that present a global health threat, like coronavirus. Join us in taking action on global health here.

Wash your hands. Skip unnecessary travel. Don’t touch your face — and if you’re a public health official, don’t immediately lick your finger after advising people to avoid doing just that.

Life in the era of coronavirus would be far simpler if we had a vaccine already. But these things take time — and money — to develop from scratch. 

That’s why Britain has just stepped up with a second pledge in the space of a month to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) — an organisation leading from the front in the research and development of a vaccine against COVID-19.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on March 6 that the Department for International Development (DfID) would invest a further £46 million into work developing a vaccine and a rapid test for the disease, after £20 million was first pledged in February.

In addition to CEPI, that funding includes support for the World Health Organisation (WHO); financial backing to humanitarian organisations that help vulnerable countries prepare for the outbreak; and a cash injection into the Joint Initiative on Research for Epidemic Preparedness — which will help diagnose the disease quicker.

On March 11, Chancellor Rishi Sunak made a further pledge of up to £150 million in his first budget announcement that will help mitigate the economic disruption in countries where the virus has caused a drop of 10% in gross domestic product (GDP). It will go to the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF's) Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust (CCRT), a rapid response support system that helps low income countries repay debts while they focus on public health emergencies.

Then the following day, another announcement came that DfID would invest £500,000 in an organisation with experience fighting "fake news" during epidemics. The Humanitarian-to-Humanitarian (H2H) Network previously fought back againt the spread of misinformation during the Ebola outbreak in 2015, and will work with BBC Media Action and Internews to support journalists and create a hub of verified information in multiple languages.

Moreover, DfID is helping the UK deal with its shortage of ventilators used to treat coronavirus patients, according to the Times. It's working with a group called Frontier Technology to source technology from developing countries that could be quickly adapted by non-specialist manufacturers in Britain. University College London is supporting the adaptation process before the ventilators are eventually used in NHS intensive care units.

The investment comes from DfID’s UK aid budget: the lifesaving funding used to alleviate extreme poverty and its root causes. Britain spends 0.7% of its gross national income (GNI) on UK aid — and has been credited with being one of the most transparent and respected spenders of aid anywhere in the world.

Good global health is a critical part of the mission to end extreme poverty. Without strong health systems available to everyone, an illness can too often still mean life or death, depending on what side of the poverty line your family falls on. 

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Coronavirus presents an immediate threat to the world’s most vulnerable people — those who might live in places where health systems could struggle to cope with the increased strain.

“The UK is well-prepared to respond to potential cases of coronavirus at home, but a global response is needed to effectively combat the disease,” said International Development Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan. “We are investing UK aid and using the best of British expertise and science to find new ways to vaccinate against, treat, and diagnose the virus, and to support global efforts to prevent further outbreaks around the world.”

“Every action that we take to prevent the virus spreading makes the UK safer,” she added.

While eight different vaccines for coronavirus in development, it’s currently unlikely there will be any trials before June — something the UK government has highlighted is still a “record timeframe” for vaccine development.

But billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates has insisted that more still needs to be done to accelerate the fight against what he described as a potential “once-in-a-century pathogen.” 

CEPI was launched at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in 2017 to develop vaccines to stop future epidemics. It’s a partnership between public, private, philanthropic, and civil organisations that’s working closely with WHO — the team leading the collective international response — to get the vaccines to clinical trials as quickly as possible.

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But it needs more funding from high-income countries like Britain. In response to the UK’s commitment, CEPI urged more donor governments to come forward on March 6 to raise the $2 billion required to advance vaccine development and tackle the “unprecedented threat.” Otherwise, it warned, the funding it has already allocated will run out by the end of the month.

“COVID-19 is having a huge impact on individuals, societies, and economies,” Richard Hatchett, CEO of CEPI, said in a statement released to Global Citizen. “CEPI is working at speed to develop a vaccine, which will be crucial in the world’s efforts to tackle this virus.”

“Investing in vaccine development now is an investment in the future health of all our societies,” he added. “An urgent, global, concerted effort is now needed to raise the money required to advance the development of COVID-19 vaccines.”

You can learn more about COVID-19 and start taking meaningful actions to support the global effort to tackle it on our Together At Home campaign page.

You can see all of Global Citizen's COVID-19 coverage here.

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