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Expert comment – Africa must be high up the agenda for pandemic preparedness

Commitments made at the Global COVID-19 summit offer an opportunity for low-income countries to play their part.
Martin Antonio, Director of CEPR: "The summit’s success will be determined by resulting global action. Firm commitments must be met."

World leaders gathered at the Global COVID-19 summit to discuss efforts to end the pandemic and prepare for future health threats including calls for more funds to increase access to vaccination, testing and treatment.

The virtual meeting was jointly hosted by Senegal, Belize, Germany, Indonesia and the US. It aimed to build on commitments made at the first global summit in September, with countries pledging  $962 million so far for the World Bank pandemic preparedness fund.

US President Joe Biden, who has called on Congress to provide more money to contribute to the response, said the country will share technologies used to make COVID-19 vaccines through the World Health Organization and is working to expand rapid testing and antiviral treatments for people who need them by enabling low-income countries to produce generic versions.

More than six million people globally have died from COVID-19 to date.

Professor Martin Antonio, Co-Director of the Centre for Epidemic Preparedness & Response at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said:

“It was important that Senegal co-hosted the summit. Africa must be high up the agenda for COVID-19 response and pandemic preparedness. The summit’s success will be determined by resulting global action. Firm commitments must be met.

“While clearly not enough, the $3 billion gathered to fight the pandemic is of course welcome, including the $962 million in commitments to the World Bank pandemic preparedness fund. It is crucial this is used wisely. Preparedness for the pandemic era must be redefined, acting on the true lessons COVID-19 brings, expanding on what works and overhauling what doesn’t.

“Low-income countries have paid a high price during this pandemic, in more ways than one. The belated decision by the United States to share technologies used to make COVID-19 vaccines through the World Health Organization is significant, and should mean low- and middle-income nations can secure life-saving therapeutics at lower cost.

“It is better late than never though, as this is more sustainable and science must be decolonised - after all, the virus does not need a visa to travel from LMIC to HIC.

“Combined with the commitment to expand rapid testing and antiviral treatments for hard-to-reach populations, there is a cause for celebration for countries in Africa which must play their part by being ready for tools like vaccines and be willing to use them.

“It is tragic to record the number of COVID-19 global deaths, some of which were preventable.

“I hope the optimistic words expressed by the US government will be turned into ‘global action’ to fight COVID-19 everywhere.”

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