The Financial Express

Multilateral initiative to ease the pandemic crisis

Multilateral initiative to ease the pandemic crisis

It took quite a while to firm up a multilateral initiative by leading global bodies to come forward in devising a short-to-medium-term roadmap for fighting the covid pandemic globally. Obviously, countries that need implementation of  the initiative most are the less advanced and poor countries which, besides being overwhelmed by the spread of the pandemic and periled farther by insufficient vaccines, are also saddled with economic hardships of all conceivable sorts.

It has been learnt that the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank Group, the World Health Organisation and the World Trade Organisation have jointly formed a Task Force to accelerate access to COVID-19 vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics by leveraging multilateral finance and trade solutions, particularly in low- and middle-income countries.

The Task Force aims to vaccinate at least 40 per cent of the population in  these countries by the end of 2021, and at least 60 per cent by mid-2022.  The effort is designed to coordinate, and advance delivery of COVID-19 vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics, and work with governments and partners at the global and local levels to address finance and trade barriers to ensure that vulnerable populations have access to these life-saving tools. The Task Force is also to track and monitor specific global and country-level gaps to support faster and more targeted solutions to accelerate access to COVID-19 vaccines, treatments and tests in developing countries.

The Task Force members are reportedly mobilising critical finance with a focus on grants and concessional lending, helping to remove barriers to export and import of vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics, and supporting more production, including in low and middle-income countries. The Task Force is calling on developed countries to share at least 1.0 billion vaccine doses with developing countries during 2021.

In a joint statement, heads of the aforementioned international agencies have said, "We reiterate the urgency of providing access to COVID-19 vaccines, tests and treatments to people throughout the developing world. In the area of vaccines, a key constraint is the acute and alarming shortage in the supply of doses to low- and low-middle income countries, especially for the rest of 2021. We call on countries with advanced COVID-19 vaccination programs to release as soon as possible as much of their contracted vaccine doses and options as possible to COVAX, AVAT, and low and low-middle income countries." In the statement, they mentioned that vaccine delivery schedules and contracts for COVAX, AVAT, and low and low-middle income countries are either delayed or too slow. Less than 5.0 per cent of vaccine doses that were pre-purchased by or for low-income countries have been delivered. This prompts their thinking to target at least 40 per cent of people in low- and low-middle income countries to be vaccinated by the end of 2021. "We estimate that less than 20 per cent of the necessary vaccines is currently scheduled for delivery to these countries, whether through COVAX, AVAT, or bilateral deals and dose-sharing agreements", the joint statement says.

The global bodies have urged COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers to redouble their efforts to scale up production of vaccines,  and 'to ensure that the supply of doses to COVAX and low- and low-middle income countries takes precedence over the promotion of boosters and other activities.' In this connection they also called upon governments to reduce or eliminate barriers to export of vaccines and all materials involved in their production and deployment.

The Task Force also launched a new website that includes the first phase of a global database, and country dashboards on vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics to guide their work and advocacy.

As per the IMF's $50 billion proposal to end the pandemic, and in line with the priorities set out by WHO, WTO, IMF and the World Bank Group, over $35 billion grant is needed-- one third of which has been financed to date. Meanwhile, the recent announcement by COVAX and the World Bank on accelerating vaccine supplies for developing countries through a new financing mechanism is expected to ease the crisis to some extent.

The global COVID-19 pandemic is plunging the world into a socio-economic and financial crisis of an unprecedented scale, in addition to the acute health crisis. Many of the gains achieved under the banner of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are under threat. The crisis has exposed and exacerbated vulnerabilities and inequalities in both developing and developed countries, deepening poverty and exclusion and pushing the most vulnerable even further behind. This is a watershed moment. A sustainable, equitable and peaceful future hinges on the right national and international policy decisions.

COVID-19's spread across the world demands a bold multilateral response, and it is here that the Task Force has to be practically oriented to a well coordinated mechanism amongst themselves as well the governments. There are immense inequalities in the capacities of governments to respond both to the health emergency and to the social and economic fallout. The social and economic damages of COVID-19 will be particularly pronounced in countries with weaker health systems, higher levels of debt, less fiscal space to organise stimulus packages, less easy access to international liquidity, and weak productive capacity and associated low incomes. Thus a strong commitment is needed to maintain open and free trade; to keep open borders, with restrictions only for clear health reasons; and to help the poorest countries, particularly least developed countries (LDCs). According experts, the Task Forces' response should also include issuance of the International Monetary Fund's (IMF) Special Drawing Rights by at least $500 billion, and for the advanced economies to put their shares into a trust fund to finance programmes in emerging markets and developing economies; the establishment of a multilateral currency swap facility within the IMF; debt restructuring and greater debt relief for developing countries; and coordinated use of capital controls. Critically, in the direct response to the pandemic, rapid universal access to quality-assured vaccines, treatments and diagnostics must be ensured in all countries, with the need prioritised over the ability to pay, in line with the 2030 UN Agenda of leaving no one behind.


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