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UK global response to COVID must ensure no-one is left behind, MPs say

Government’s five-point plan to prevent global health crises must ensure ‘no-one is left behind’ and not be at the cost of other development programmes, argues new IDC report.

The International Development Committee (IDC) welcomes news of the first effective Covid-19 vaccine emerging from trials. The key challenge would be providing equitable access to this – and other – medicines across the globe.

The Government should use its position as G7 President in 2021 to lead the charge in establishing a global health and nutrition strategy to prepare the world for future healthcare emergencies as has been experienced with coronavirus, MPs say.

The IDC has today published its report on the immediate impact coronavirus is having in developing countries. However, MPs have found that there is little in way of reliable data measuring the impact due to a lack of testing being carried out. Further, the evidence submitted to the Committee stressed the secondary impacts of the virus for many is worse that the coronavirus itself is having.

The Committee is supportive of the Prime Minister’s recent announcement to UNGA where he called for a five-point plan to tackle emerging diseases. However, the Committee stressed that the global community needs to be on the front foot and promote a global health strategy and universal care that will be able to cope with new and different health challenges. But funding always needs to be able to reach aid workers responding to crises promptly and other development programmes, working to address the UN Sustainable Development Goals, must not be sacrificed by the reallocation of funding.

MPs also recognised that funding for R&D into vaccines, treatments and tests not targeted at developing countries should not be official development assistance (ODA) coming from the aid budget. This creates an opportunity to invest further in distributing products equitably –well as revitalising aid programmes impacted by the pandemic and reductions to the UK’s total ODA.

International Development Committee Chair, Sarah Champion MP, said:

“Overrun hospitals, exhausted medics, shortage of testing capability. These are just some of the difficulties Western nations have faced with coronavirus. But, having a weak healthcare foundation to begin with, many developing nations are buckling under the pressure.

“This is not the first pandemic the world has seen, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. If there is anything to learn from the global response to coronavirus, is that a global health strategy is needed to avert future catastrophes. We have heard promising news this week that one vaccine in trials has a 90% success rate, and the absolute imperative for the aid community is to ensure equitable access around the globe as these vaccines get rolled-out.

“The Government should be commended in pledging huge sums of money to R&D vaccine, treatment and test projects that can benefit developing countries. But this cannot be at the price of other life-changing programmes that UK aid supports. We need a clear distinction of funding; R&D for a coronavirus cure, for the benefit of all around the world, cannot get backdoor funding from our depleting aid budget. ODA funding is needed for vaccination distribution regardless of wealth and for tackling the appalling secondary impacts that the pandemic has inflicted.”

In response to concerns about these secondary, indirect, impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, the International Development Committee launched a further inquiry, Humanitarian crises monitoring: coronavirus in developing countries: secondary impacts. Evidence hearings are ongoing.

Full recommendations are:

  • The FCDO should continue to fund existing programmes aimed at the eradication of previously identified diseases. The Government should lobby allies and partners to stop any transfer of resources from existing programmes, and the Global Fund, to Covid initiatives.
  • The FCDO should continue to make safeguarding and action against gender-based violence, including sexual violence, a priority to maintain and strengthen the international alliance around initiatives in this area. The Government should preserve existing levels of funding and seek to identify what further interventions may counteract the effect that Covid has had in increasing levels of domestic violence and sexual exploitation and abuse.
  • The Government should continue to project clearly onto the international stage, the importance it places on the UK’s place within the rules-based international infrastructure and the crucial foundations of human rights and the rule of law.
  • The FCDO should:
    • Recognise that the eradication of the pandemic everywhere is an integral part of resolving the threat anywhere and switch its financial support for Covid-19 vaccines, therapies and tests from its ODA pot to other budgets (freeing up resources for more frontline activity on secondary impacts in developing countries)
    • Re-commit to its ongoing programmes and provide new funding for the Covid-19 response– in particular in relation to secondary impacts — from ODA, freed up from Covid-19 vaccine R&D.
    • Use its significant leverage as leading development actor in many areas (gender equality, disability inclusion, poverty alleviation) to lead an inclusive and transparent approach by the donor community (both bilateral and multilateral)
    • Put local NGOs and their partner International NGOs at the heart of the global Covid-19 response.
  • It would not be prudent for the Government to work on the basis that funding allocated to research for a vaccine/tests/treatments for Covid-19 would count as ODA. Our view is that this frees up a substantial sum from the 2020 ODA pot to be applied to, either alleviate part of the cuts made in anticipation of reduced GNI for 2020, or activity aimed at alleviating secondary impacts of the Covid-20 19 pandemic. We would recommend the latter course.
  • The PM and the Government should be more ambitious for the UK’s G7 Presidency than simply calling for better cooperation in spotting, preventing and fighting another pandemic more effectively. Rather, we recommend the Government lead a charge towards the establishment of a holistic global health and nutrition strategy based around achieving Sustainable Development Goal Three (ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages) more broadly.

Information on the follow-up inquiry, Humanitarian crises monitoring: coronavirus in developing countries: secondary impacts, can be found on the IDC’s website.

The Prime Minister’s recent speech at UNGA, outlining the five-point plan, can be found on the website.

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