Who Are the Key Players in Making COVID-19 Tests, Treatments, and Vaccines Available to Everyone?
Every day, it’s the smallest things we do that can make the biggest difference to the COVID-19 crisis: avoiding public transport, washing our hands, or sharing accurate information.
But the big things matter too — greater than any single government, reaching further than any one society. The pandemic only truly ends when the very last person is safe, when the final country can announce that it’s safe to return to normal.
The question is: who is working on the big picture? What moves are being made globally to put an end to this pandemic?
Global collaborative efforts to tackle COVID-19 — especially when it comes down to health equality, ensuring everyone on the planet has the same access to solutions at the same time — essentially boil down to three key factors: testing, treatments, and vaccines.
That means ensuring the most effective tests reach all countries that need them; working on developing the cutting-edge treatments necessary to help fight the symptoms of the virus; and funding vaccine candidates to protect people from getting COVID-19 in the first place — all while guaranteeing these tools aren’t snapped up by the richest countries. Everyone must be able access all these necessities.
Global Citizen launched a new campaign on May 28, called Global Goal: Unite for Our Future, calling on world leaders to help fund the development and equitable delivery of COVID-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines by supporting the global organizations that are driving these historic efforts.
Global health care infrastructure can be difficult to navigate. It can be hard to know which people and organizations are leading the charge against the coronavirus pandemic, and how they work together.
So, here are some of the key players you should know about.
The Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics
Testing is our fastest route back to normality. It allows health services to adapt to outbreaks, informs updated government guidelines, and can significantly reduce the COVID-19 infection rate. In South Korea, for example, where hundreds of testing centers were set up to deliver results within 24 hours, the infection rate has been reduced to zero.
But when the world’s poorest countries also have the lowest rates of testing, the risk of the virus spiralling beyond control due to insufficient monitoring is dangerously high.
Africa’s Centres for Disease Control and Prevention has reported, for example, that only 1.3 million COVID-19 tests had been used across Africa by the middle of May. At the end of May, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a warning that COVID-19 could turn into a "silent epidemic" in Africa, unless testing was prioritized and rolled out on a much larger scale.
The Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND) is taking a central role working on improved access to testing. There are more than 500 different tests for COVID-19, and FIND has been evaluating many of these to independently assess their accuracy. Meanwhile, it’s working with the WHO to address issues in supply chains to ensure these tests are reaching low-income countries.
At the same time, FIND has partnered with a number of other organizations to create online tools to provide technical assistance to labs.
There’s a digital training course, specializing in low-income environments, a modelling simulator on the way, and a global test tracker. Fun fact: over 93 million tests have been administered around the world already.
We are joining @Glblctzn@EU_Commission & Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator partners @Unitaid@CEPI@GAVI@GlobalFund@WHO & @UNFoundation on the "Global Goal: Unite For Our Future" campaign against #COVID19.— FIND (Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics) (@FINDdx) May 29, 2020
👉Get involved: https://t.co/lgigw1VoF5#GlobalGoalUnite
The World Health Organization
You might be able to tell from the name, but a big part of the Global Goal: Unite for Our Future campaign is about bringing people together.
To tackle a global pandemic like COVID-19, global cooperation is essential. Governments and organizations need to collaborate in their response and research because, as we’ve already seen, if COVID-19 exists somewhere, it’s a threat to people everywhere. Everyone needs to be on the same team.
And since the start of the pandemic, the WHO has been acting as team captain.
The UN agency has published a strategy on international coordination, local preparedness, and how countries can respond. But acknowledging that many don’t have the resources to implement that strategy, it has also launched the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund to help mobilize funds to countries that need them.
The Solidarity Response Fund was a big focus of Global Citizen's campaigning efforts through One World: Together At Homein April — $50 million of the $55 million raised through the campaign to support the fund specifically has already been received by the fund — with the rest on its way. It helps build up lab capacity in low-income countries, and provides testing kits to vulnerable communities. Indeed, by April 1, the WHO had already delivered 1.5 million diagnostic kits to 126 countries.
The COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator
Thousands of studies are currently being conducted to find treatments for COVID-19. According to the Wellcome Trust, that means three things: antivirals (stopping the virus from developing when inside you), anti-inflammatory drugs (to keep the immune system calm), and antibody treatments (attacking the virus directly).
But even though progress is happening, it’s not yet fast enough. It’s not just about researching treatments, it’s about ensuring that they’re available to everyone at the same time, so nobody is left behind. That’s why a vast array of influential organizations have committed to what they call an "unprecedented level of partnership" to speed up the process.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; the WHO; Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness and Innovation (CEPI); the Wellcome Trust; the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria; and the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID) are all contributors to the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator (CTA).
The partnership aims to coordinate research and development efforts, remove barriers to drug development, and scale up treatments — all while keeping innovations affordable and accessible for low-income countries.
The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness and Innovation
We can test an entire population frequently, we can discover new medicines to treat patients, but there’s one key way we can leave the pandemic behind for good: with the creation of a vaccine that everybody in the world gets equal access to.
There are 224 COVID-19 vaccine candidates currently in development, according to data collated by CEPI on May 24. Many of those are being funded by CEPI too, giving the world the best possible chance to find a vaccine.
But what is CEPI, exactly? It’s a global partnership between public, private, philanthropic, and civil organizations on the hunt for that vaccine. And just as important, CEPI is making sure that any program it invests in will ensure that any successful vaccine isn’t just sold to the highest bidder.
It has written agreements with all its partners that include equitable access provisions, meaning that if it strikes gold, then that vaccine will be produced across multiple countries so distribution across the globe is guaranteed.
Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance
Gavi was launched 20 years ago at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, to lead global immunization efforts. Since then, it has vaccinated 760 million children and saved more than 13 million lives.
Since the COVID-19 outbreak, Gavi has been working to both tackle COVID-19, while at the same time working to ensure the pandemic doesn’t impact its routine immunization programs too. If that happened, the world could see a resurgence of other vaccine-preventable diseases, like measles and polio, emerge alongside the COVID-19 outbreak.
While it continues its life-saving work administering routine vaccine programs, Gavi has also been diverting funding to help strengthen health systems in low-income countries, to strengthen the delivery systems that will be essential to ensuring equal access to anti-COVID-19 tools, and using its networks of community health care providers to distribute trusted public health information.
Gavi is also going to be one of the most important organizations in getting any successful COVID-19 vaccine to the hardest-to-reach places.
Over the last two decades, the organization has built an impressive global supply chain with programs delivering vaccines to fight diseases like polio, while driving down prices to make them affordable for all.
Gavi is already working with the WHO, CEPI, the World Bank, and UNICEF on plans to roll out the COVID-19 vaccine when it’s ready. Its extensive experience will be vital in delivering vaccines to the communities most at risk from the virus.
Join the movement to help combat COVID-19 by taking action here to support the Global Goal: Unite for Our Future campaign, urge world leaders to fund the response effort, and mitigate the short- and long-term impacts of the pandemic on the world's most vulnerable people. For more information on COVID-19, the efforts to combat it, and how it impacts people around the world, read our coverage of the pandemic here.