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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)

Proposal to add US$1.1 billion in international COVID-19 response funds to to ODA budget prompts heated discussion in Dutch Parliament

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. 

This recommendation gave rise to strong disagreements within the Dutch Parliament. While some political parties, such as the Democrats 66 (D66) and the Christian Union (CU), have strongly advocated for an increase in Official Development Assistance (ODA) in light of the current crisis, the right-wing People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) is strongly opposed to such an increase. The VVD is adamant that the coalition agreement arranged for ODA to be linked to Gross National Income (GNI) and is, thus, independent of the size of the Dutch Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

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. 

News article - Telegraaf (in Dutch)

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

Latest US COVID-19 supplemental funding bills contains no international assistance

The US House of Representatives passed an additional US$3 trillion supplemental appropriations bill to respond to COVID-19. In a shock to development stakeholders, however, the "Heroes Act" contains zero funds for the global response.

The bill, which faces an uphill battle in the Senate, provided for an interagency review of global health security and urged the appointment of a US coordinator for global health security, but failed to include any funding. According to a Democratic House staffer, US foreign assistance will be taken up in the regular appropriations process, although that process has been greatly delayed by the pandemic. 

Opinion column - The Washington Post

United States

Swedish National Commission for UNESCO appoints new Secretary-General

Sweden has appointed Anna-Karin Johansson as new Secretary-General for the Swedish National Commission for UNESCO. Johansson currently serves as Secretary-General of the National Association for Sexual Education (RFSU) and has previously held positions at the Swedish Afghanistan Committee, Living History Forum, Swedish Government Offices, and Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida).

Johansson will assume office in August 2020.

Press release – Government Offices of Sweden (in Swedish)

Sweden

Responding to "devestating consequences" of COVID-19 outbreak in world's largest refugee camp, Germany pledges US$11 million to improve hygiene infrastructure

In response to the recent COVID-19 outbreak in the Rohingya refugee camp Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, German Development Minister Gerd Müller announced an additional €10 million (US$11 million) in funding to the €15 million (US$16.3 million) already pledged in February.

According to Müller, the hygiene conditions in the refugee camps are shocking. “A corona outbreak has devastating consequences here. Isolation, social-distancing, and handwashing are not possible to the extent necessary,” he remarked. Germany is already engaged in improving the sanitary situation within the camp by establishing a sewer system and decentralized treatment plants, as well as setting up health structures, he said. With the outbreak of the virus, Germany will now intensify and accelerate these measures.

Press release – BMZ (in German)

Germany

German development organizations release annual report on status of German ODA

On May 15, 2020, Welthungerhilfe, one of the largest private development organizations in Germany, and the children’s rights organization Terre des Hommes released their annual flagship report "Kompass 2020", which critically analyzes German development cooperation and gives recommendations to the German government.

The report calls on the German government to increase development and humanitarian assistance aimed at tackling hunger and malnutrition, particularly in the lowest income countries and calls for children’s rights to be given higher priority in Germany’s development policy.

German Development Minister Gerd Müller commented on the findings of the report, emphasizing that Germany would remain a strong ally of the world's poorest nations. According to Müller, Germany increased its funding in the lowest-income countries from €2.5 billion (US$2.8 billion) to €4.2 billion (US$4.6 billion) between 2013 and 2018. He further pointed to Germany’s engagement in the field of children’s rights, giving as examples  Germany's rank as the third-largest donor to UNICEF and its support of one million children in emergency and crisis situations.

The report was supported by staff at SEEK Development GmbH, the organizational and strategic consulting firm behind the Donor Tracker.

Press release – Welthungerhilfe

Press release – BMZ (in German)

Germany

UK announces two new 'aid-for trade' facilities for low-income countries impacted by COVID-19

The UK Ambassador to the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Julian Braithwaite, announced the establishment of two new 'aid-for-trade' facilities for poor countries impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. He made the announcement at the WTO’s General Council on Friday, May 15th, 2020.

The first facility is through the UK's Department for International Development’s (DFIF) Trade and Investment Advocacy Fund (TAF2+), which is aimed at supporting countries in:

  • Conducting research to track the trade impacts of COVID-19;
  • Informing the WTO of any trade-related measures taking place as a result of COVID-19; and
  • Engaging in virtual WTO meeting platforms.

The second is through the World Bank’s Trade Facilitation Support Programme (TFSP), which the UK is helping to fund. This program is aimed at helping vulnerable countries maintain trading despite the challenges arising as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.

Press release - UK Government