Following US accusations, UN denies using COVID-19 funds to "promote abortion"

The UN firmly denied an accusation by the acting administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) that the UN was using the COVID-19 response to "promote" abortion.

A letter sent by USAID claimed that sexual and reproductive health was given the same level of importance as other essential services, such as food insecurity and essential healthcare, in order to advance abortion. The UN spokesperson denied the claim, stating that while the UN supports "healthcare that prevents millions of women from dying during pregnancy and childbirth and protects people from sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, we do not seek to override any national laws."

News article - The New York Times

Commission’s new long-term EU budget proposal will boost health research and development funding

The European Commission will release an updated proposal for the EU’s long-term budget, the 2021-2027 multiannual financial framework (MFF), on May 27, 2020, which will include a plan for COVID-19 recovery that will boost spending for health research and development assistance. Commission President Ursula von der Leyen presented the outline of the proposal to the European Parliament on May 13, which will include three pillars: 

  1. Supporting recovery for member states;
  2. Kick-starting the economy and private investment; and
  3. Learning the immediate lessons of the crisis, including strengthening RescEU and the Horizon Europe research program, creating a new health program, and strengthening instruments for Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation and for pre-accession assistance.

The Commission has indicated that it is exploring a possible new research partnership on pandemic preparedness and would not cut funding for non-COVID-19 health research in its proposal.
Press release - European Commission
President von der Leyen’s speech transcript - European Commission
News article on pandemic partnership - Science|Business
News article on research funding - Science|Business

EU launches new US$133 million call for COVID-19 research

The European Commission is launching a research call worth €122 million (US$133 million) through the EU’s Horizon Europe research program. This funding makes up part of the Commission’s prior €1.4 billion (US$1.5 billion) pledge to the Coronavirus Global Response. The research call includes: 

  • €23 million (US$25 million) to help speed up the manufacturing sector’s ability to repurpose production lines for manufacturing medical equipment, vaccines, diagnostics;
  • €56 million (US$61 million) to support digital innovation and artificial intelligence solutions to facilitate digitizing industrial production;
  • €20 million (US$22 million) to research behavioral, social, and economic impacts of outbreak responses;
  • €20 million (US$22 million) for pan-European COVID-19 cohort studies; and
  • €3 million (US$3 million) for collaboration of existing EU and international cohorts.

Press release -  European Commission 

News article - Science|Business

EU Global health

Renewing attacks on WHO, Trump threatens to permanently cut funding and membership

In a renewal of his attacks on the World Health Organization (WHO), US President Trump sent a letter to the organization demanding that substantive changes be made within thirty days. Failure to do so might result in the US permanently cutting funding and membership to the WHO.

Trump didn't specify the changes that were needed but had earlier tweeted a letter sent to the head of the WHO, claiming mismanagement of the pandemic and charging that the WHO was weak in responding to China. Previously, Trump had frozen US funding to the WHO, a move criticized by many as simply an attempt to deflect attention away from his own mishandling of the US COVID-19 response. 

News article - The Washington Post

South Korea contributes US$53 million for COVID-19 response in Latin America via Inter-American Development Bank

South Korea's Ministry of Economy and Finance (MOEF) announced that it will provide a total of US$53 million to help its partner countries in the Latin American region combat COVID-19. Channeled through the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), MOEF will contribute US$50 million through the IDB's Economic Development Cooperation Fund (EDCF), as well as US$3 million in the form of a trust fund to finance four projects on health and medicine, private sector development, education, and public administration to fight COVID-19 in Latin America.

The contribution of US$53 million is an addition to the MOEF’s US$400 million official development assistance (ODA) in health announced in early May.

News article – The Korea Herald

South Korea Global health

Italian Health Minister calls for COVID-19 vaccine to be recognized as global public good, made universally accessible

The Italian Minister of health, Roberto Speranza, committed at the World Health Assembly to working to ensure the future COVID-19 vaccine would be recognized as a global public good, accessible to all.

Speranza also confirmed Italy's support of the World Health Organisation (WHO), emphasizing that WHO must remain completely independent of any political or financial influence and it must be guided only by science.

Speech transcript - Il Messaggero (in English)

Dutch Parliament considers proposal to add more than US$1 billion in international COVID-19 response funds to to ODA budget

On May 11, 2020, the Advisory Council for International Issues (AIV)  published its advice to the Dutch cabinet on the international response needed for COVID-19. On May 18, AIV discussed this advice more thoroughly with representatives of the Dutch Parliament, including the specifics on how the recommendation of the €1 billion (US$1.1 billion) had been calculated and how it should be disbursed. 

Minister Kaag is currently preparing a cabinet response to the report to be discussed at government level the week of May 25, and likely agreed upon the week of June 1. If the report gains support across the political spectrum and is approved by the Minister of Finance, the €1 billion will be added to the total Dutch ODA budget. 

Press release - Parliament of the Netherlands (in Dutch)

Dutch Development Minister highlights role of Gavi and WHO in global COVID-19 efforts

On May 11, 2020, the Dutch government published the full list of factual questions that the general committee for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation submitted to Minister Kaag, as well as her responses to those questions, many of which were linked to the role of the Netherlands in combatting COVID-19 globally.

To a question about vaccine development, Minister Kaag responded that the World Health Organization (WHO) and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance will play a central role in providing universal access to a future COVID-19 vaccine, and that the Netherlands supports the leading role of the WHO in coordinating the research and development of a vaccine.

Other questions touched on the Dutch commitment to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the context of COVID-19, the support that the Netherlands provides to the most vulnerable groups, and Official Development Assistance (ODA) allocations for COVID-19. 

Press release - Parliament of the Netherlands (in Dutch)

South Korea's Moon Jae-in calls for global solidarity, vaccine development, legally binding health regulations at World Health Assembly

President Moon Jae-in of South Korea gave a special address at the 73rd World Health Assembly on May 18th. He first included in his remarks a review of South Korea’s efforts to fight COVID-19, under the principle of "freedom for all". He explained how South Korea opted for options such as social distancing, the active wearing of face masks, and rigorous quarantine measures rather than choosing national lockdown measures. He also referenced South Korea’s ongoing partnership with major multilateral health initiatives including Gavi, the Global Fund, UNITAID, IVI, and CEPI. However, he stressed that the threats of global health pandemic are still widespread and highlighted the importance of vaccine development. In particular, he emphasized the following three points in his remarks:

  • Expand humanitarian assistance to partner countries with vulnerable healthcare systems. For example, South Korea will provide US$100 million in humanitarian aid to its partner countries while sharing experiences and data gathered on COVID-19
  • Cooperate globally for the development of vaccines and therapeutics including supporting WHO’s efforts. Vaccines and treatments should also be distributed equitably globally as public goods
  • Update the WHO international health regulations to be legally binding, share information transparently, set up a joint cooperation mechanism

Transcript – Yonhap News

Japan holds international conference to discuss universal health coverage in context of COVID-19

Japan's Permanent Mission to the United Nations held an online conference on COVID-19, with participation from the WHO, UNICEF and UN ambassadors from over 100 countries. The primary focus of the event was to discuss the need for universal health coverage (UHC) in the context of the COVID-19 crisis, and officials from the WHO stated the need for global commitment on universal access to healthcare by providing development assistance, especially for vulnerable countries.

Referencing a political declaration by the UN last year promoting UHC, Japan's Ambassador to the UN Kimihiro Ishikane stated, “it's more important now than ever to be more involved with this declaration now that COVID-19 having a major impact on people."

Furthermore, WHO Deputy Executive Director Zsuzsanna Yakab claimed, “in order to suppress the virus, it is essential that everyone be able to receive medical services without suffering financial difficulties” and urged countries to improve their medical systems.

The 2014 Ebola epidemic illustrated the difficulties in preventing diseases like Ebola, measles, malaria, and tuberculosis in vulnerable medical systems, and UNICEF Director Henrietta Fore highlighted the need to prepare for other infectious diseases during the coronavirus pandemic.

News article – Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK) (in Japanese)

Japan Global health