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At UK-led G7 meeting, "collective G7 support" to ACT-A totals US$7.5 billion, but experts criticize UK for retaining surplus doses until citizens are fully vaccinated

The UK hosted its first virtual G7 leaders' meeting on February 19, 2021, after which "collective G7 support" totaled US$7.5 billion for the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A), an increase of over US$4.0 billion.

ACT-A's vaccine pillar, COVAX, is co-led by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the World Health Organization (WHO), and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), and it aims to ensure an equitable distribution of vaccines, including to low-income countries.

At the meeting, the US under the new Biden administration pledged to provide US$4.0 billion in development assistance to COVAX over the next three years, Germany pledged an additional US$1.8 billion, and the EU pledged an additional US$608 million.

These commitments were welcomed by the WHO Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, but he noted that more needs to be done. At present, only 10 countries have administered 75% of all vaccinations worldwide, with 130 countries not yet receiving a single dose.

French President Emmanuel Macron is calling for greater action to address the imbalance, with a drive to get Europe and the US to provide 5% of their own supplies to low-income nations. The UK has ruled out doing this and has committed only to providing its surplus vaccines after its entire population has been vaccinated. This decision has been criticized by some UK global health experts, who have questioned the ethics of such a decision, whereby young people in the UK will receive the vaccine ahead of health workers and elderly in other countries.  

News article - BBC

News article - Devex

With additional G7 pledges of US$4.3 billion, ACT-A commitments to date stand at US$10.3 billion; funding gap of US$22.9 billion remains

On February 19, 2021, at the virtual G7 leaders' meeting, US$4.3 billion in new commitments were made to the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A) and its vaccine pillar, COVAX, to contribute to closing the funding gap in global COVID-19 response and ensure equitable vaccine distribution. 

The contributions included the following:

  • Canada committed US$59 million to ACT-A;
  • Japan committed US$79 million to the COVAX Advance Market Commitment (AMC), a COVAX funding mechanism to support access to vaccines for lower-income countries, as well as to Unitaid;
  • Germany committed US$1.8 billion to ACT-A, covering all of ACT-A's pillars and including "tests, treatments, vaccines, and health systems strengthening";
  • US committed US$4.0 billion to COVAX AMC (US$2.0 billion in already appropriated funds and an additional US$2.0 billion over the next two years); and
  • The EU committed US$363 million to COVAX AMC, along with a US$242 million loan from the European Investment Bank backed by guarantees through the European Fund for Sustainable Development.

ACT-A initially needed US$38.1 billion for 2020-2021; following an early February Facilitation Council meeting, ACT-A announced that the remaining funding gap was US$27.2 billion.

Following the new contributions announced at the G7 meeting, the total committed to ACT-A to date was US$10.3 billion and the funding gap was brought down to US$22.9 billion, according to the WHO press release.

Press release - WHO

Press release - Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance

New US Congress brings new foreign assistance committee leadership

The start of the new US Congress brings new leadership to relevant foreign assistance committees in both the US Senate and the House of Representatives. 

In the Senate, the new leadership changes resulted from the Democrats taking control of the US Senate in the last election, meaning that some leaders switched from being the ranking member (the most senior member of the minority party) to chair (the most senior member of the majority party) of their committees. In the House, which the Democrats maintained control of, the leadership shifts occurred because of retirements and election losses.

The long-standing chair of the House Appropriations Committee, Nita Lowey, who retired at the end of the last Congress, was a champion of US foreign assistance. She has been replaced by Representative Rosa DeLauro as chair of the full committee and Representative Barbara Lee as chair of the subcommittee that controls almost all US foreign assistance funding. Both are considered strong supporters of US development issues and funding.

The other key change is the elevation of Representative Gregory Meeks to chair the House Foreign Affairs Committee. His interest in US development policy is less clear, although he has called for a "reset" of US policy in Africa.

Senator Robert Menendez will now chair the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and is expected to have a full agenda. On the Senate Appropriations Committee, Senator Patrick Leahy will now chair the full committee and Senator Chris Coons will chair the relevant subcommittee. Both are considered strong supporters of US foreign assistance and development policy.  

News article - Devex

US to pay US$200 million in overdue membership fees to WHO

The US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, announced that the US would repay in full all past membership fees owed to the World Health Organization (WHO). Speaking before the United Nations Security Council, Blinken said that the US would pay the US$200 million in dues to the WHO before the end of the month.

US President Joe Biden had made rejoining the WHO one of his first priorities when he took office, reversing former President Donald Trump's announcement in July 2020 that the US would withdraw. 

"This is a key step forward in fulfilling our financial obligations as a WHO member and it reflects our renewed commitment to ensuring the WHO has the support it needs to lead the global response to the pandemic," Blinken told the UN Security Council.

He also called on partner countries to stop the spread of vaccine misinformation and to share relevant data on the origins of the COVID-19 outbreak with investigators.

News article - CNBC News

UK hosts first G7 finance ministers’ meeting, centering green recovery, support to vulnerable countries, jobs protections, taxes on digital economy

The UK hosted its first virtual G7 Finance Ministers’ and Central Bank Governors’ meeting on February 12, 2021. The UK Chancellor for the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, led the meeting by calling upon his counterparts – the Finance Ministers and Central Governors from France, Italy, Germany, Canada, the US, and Japan – to ensure a green recovery post-COVID-19 by putting the climate and nature at the center of all economic and financial decision-making in 2021.

Sunak also called for G7 countries to work with international institutions to enable vulnerable countries to manage the pandemic. This included supporting a rapid and fair vaccine distribution, and supporting debt relief, with a call for private-sector creditors to help ensure sustainable debt treatment to the poorest countries and ensure access to credit and grants for low-income countries.

Sunak also called for the G7 finance ministers to focus in the year ahead on protecting jobs and reaching a global solution to the tax challenges created by the digitalization of the economy.

The meeting comes ahead of the UK’s first G7 virtual leaders meeting on February 19, 2021.

Press release - UK government

News article - Devex

US ramps up sanctions on Myanmar following military coup

After formally designating the military takeover in Myanmar as a coup d'état, the US Biden administration took multiple steps to put pressure on the military to reverse course.

In addition to imposing financial sanctions on ten military leaders and three military-owned companies, the US diverted US$42 million in US foreign assistance from programs that benefit the government to those that "support and strengthen civil society". The US further reimposed export restrictions and froze US$1.0 billion of the Myanmar military's assets held in the US.

The Biden administration signaled that it would work with other "like-minded partners and allies" to put additional pressure on Myanmar and warned that further action would be taken if the peaceful protests encountered additional violence.

News article - ABC News

ACT-A Facilitation Council announces funding gap of US$27.2 billion, asks countries not to compete with COVAX vaccine contracts

The Facilitation Council of the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A) had its fourth meeting on February 9, 2021, to discuss its 2021 agenda and needs, including closing the funding gap of US$27.2 billion for 2021.

The World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, co-hosted and began his introductory remarks by welcoming the newly-joined US under President Joe Biden to ACT-A. 

Ghebreyesus stressed that more than 90% of countries currently administering COVID-19 vaccines are wealthy, and 75% of all doses given have been given in just ten countries. Nearly 130 countries, he said, have not administered a single dose.

ACT-A and the COVAX Facility were created as part of global efforts coordinated by the WHO and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, among others, in order to increase access to vaccines and promote vaccine equity internationally, and these goals are being threatened, said Ghebreyesus.

He called for:

  1. Full financing of ACT-A and COVAX: The financing gap is at more than US$27.2 billion for 2021. He called on the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and Development Assistance Committee (DAC) countries to commit a proportion of stimulus financing and to unlock capital in multilateral development banks to help close the gap.
  2. Respect for COVAX contracts from all countries and a non-competition commitment: He referred here to countries who continue to sign bilateral vaccine deals while many nations have no vaccine doses at all. Ghebreyesus reiterated WHO's goal that the vaccination of health workers should be in progress in all countries within the first 100 days of 2021, which means that countries with more doses need to share and donate doses before going on to vaccinate their lower-risk populations. He warned that if COVID-19 is not suppressed globally, that variants of the virus could result in the world "back at square one".
  3. An urgent increase in manufacturing to increase the volume of vaccines: This could include "innovative partnerships including tech transfer, licensing and other mechanisms to address production bottlenecks".

Experts have warned that all countries need to take an "internationalist", not nationalist, approach to vaccination rollout and tacking COVID-19, otherwise experts fear that some low-income countries may not receive vaccines until 2024.

Visuals from the 'ACT-A Prioritized Strategy & Budget for 2021' presentation illustrate the contributors of a total of US$6.0 billion to ACT-A, as of February 3, and the breakdown of the US$27.2 billion needed for 2021. According to an update as of February 12, ACT-A has an additional US$4.0 billion in projected funding, so the US$27.2 billion funding gap "will be reduced to US$23.2 billion as projected funds are operationalized."

Transcript - WHO

Event website - WHO

WHO Europe director urges wealthier countries to share COVID-19 vaccines as soon as 20% of own population is vaccinated

The head of the European branch of the World Health Organization (WHO), Hans Kluge, called on high-income countries to show solidarity with low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) by sharing COVID-19 vaccine doses as soon as 20% of their own populations have been vaccinated. 

He pointed out that some richer countries—including the US, UK, Canada, and those in the EU—have already purchased, through bilateral deals with vaccine companies, "four to nine times more doses" than what they would need.

Kluge urged them to not wait until they have reached the threshold of 70% vaccinated for herd immunity before they begin sharing vaccines with LMICs.

He also opposed the idea of ‘vaccine passports’ to enable those who have been vaccinated to be able to travel because he said it would increase inequities. 
News article - France24

US formally designates Myanmar military takeover as coup, triggering review of foreign assistance

Following the military takeover in Myanmar, the US Department of State formally designated the event a coup d'état, triggering legal restrictions on the use of US foreign assistance.

State Department officials have started a review of all assistance to Myanmar to assess which funding, such as humanitarian assistance and support for democracy, is going directly to people in need versus going directly to the government.  

By law, assistance to the government will be suspended but other assistance will be allowed to continue. A State Department official also indicated that it would undertake "a broader review of our assistance programs to ensure they align with recent events."

News article - Devex

UK assumes Presidency of UN Security Council for February 2021 with focus on COVID-19, climate, violent conflict

The UK assumed the Presidency of the UN Security Council on February 1, 2021. It will hold the rotating post for a month and said it will use its leadership to focus on three key issues: the COVID-19 crisis, anti-democratic conflict, and the climate crisis.

Regarding the topic of conflict, UK Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Barbara Woodward, expressed the UK's concern about "the situation in Myanmar", referring to the recent coup following the election win of the National League for Democracy party of Aung San Suu Kyi, the country's leader. The UK has condemned the military takeover.

Human rights experts fear what this could mean for the persecuted Rohingya population and other groups.

Twitter - UK government

Kaiser Family Foundation releases 2019 report on family planning funding

The Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), a nonprofit organization that focuses on US and global health, released its 'Donor Government Funding for Family Planning in 2019' report in January 2021.

The report found that:

  • Donor governments' funding levels for family planning in 2019 were similar to those of 2018;
  • In 2019, half of the studied donors increased bilateral funding for family planning;
  • The US was the largest donor to family planning, followed by the UK, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Canada; 
  • Funding to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) remained steady compared to 2018 levels; and 
  • Funding levels in the future may be negatively affected by the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis, but there might be more support from the Biden administration if future funding requests are approved by Congress.

Report - KFF

Biden repeals infamous 'global gag rule' and restores funding to UNFPA, increasing protection for sexual and reproductive health and rights, global health

Fulfilling a campaign promise, US President Joe Biden signed an executive order that formally revoked the Mexico City Policy, otherwise known as the 'global gag rule', for its restrictions on global health and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).

Additionally, Biden ordered that US agencies involved in foreign assistance shall waive all existing conditions in any current grants that contain Mexico City Policy restrictions, notify current grantees of that waiver, and stop imposing these restrictions for any future awards.  

Biden ordered US agencies to withdraw from the Geneva Consensus Declaration, an anti-abortion declaration signed by 34 countries. Biden also directed US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to resume funding for the United Nations Population Fund. 

News report - The Washington Post  

Press release - The White House

Climate Adaptation Summit convenes world leaders, launches Adaptation Action Agenda to enact resiliency measures

World leaders convened digitally at the Climate Adaptation Summit (CAS) to launch partnerships to tackle the climate crisis, pledge financial support, and sign on to adaptation measures to be enacted while countries fight to prevent further environmental devastation. The Summit was hosted by the Netherlands on January 25-26, 2021.

CAS resulted in the "2030 Adaptation Action Agenda for accelerating climate adaptation action", which aims to make 2021-2030 a "make-or-break" decade of action against the climate crisis. The Agenda takes into account the new challenges of the COVID-19 crisis, with further commitments to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals laid out by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted in 2015 by all UN member states.

The Climate Adaption Summit also helps prepare for COP26, the annual UN Climate Change Conference, which will take place in November 2021 after being postponed from 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Government participants included the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, South Korea, the Netherlands, and the UK, many of whom made announcements or pledges:

Australian Minister for Environment, Sussan Ley, announced that Australia would develop a new climate resilience and adaptation strategy this year, and the country will join the Coalition for Climate Resilient Investment, an initiative of COP26.

France’s Climate Ambassador, Stéphane Crouzat, announced a new €4 million (US$5 million) contribution to the CREWS Initiative, "a mechanism that funds Least Developed Countries (LDC) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) for risk informed early warning services".

German Chancellor Angela Merkel pledged €220 million (US$268 million) to support low-income countries adapting to the climate crisis.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a new 'Adaptation Action Coalition'—developed in partnership with Bangladesh, Egypt, Malawi, the Netherlands, Saint Lucia, and the UN—that aims to turn political commitments made through the UN 'Call for Action on Adaptation and Resilience' into tangible support. Around 120 countries including the EU and 90 organizations have signed this.

Newly-appointed US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, John Kerry, reiterated that the US is rejoining the Paris Agreement on climate and is working on its new nationally determined contribution (NDC). The US will announce its NDC "as soon as practical" and plans to "significantly increase the flow of finance, including concessional finance" to help adaptation and resilience measures.

International institution and business leaders also attended and announced initiatives:

President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), Gilbert Houngbo, officially launched a climate adaptation fund, the 'Adaptation for Smallholder Agriculture Program', to help smallholder farmers. IFAD aims to mobilize US$500 million to support more than 10 million people.

President of the African Development Bank, Akinwumi Adesina, announced the launch of the 'Africa Adaptation Acceleration Program' (AAAP), in coordination with the Global Center on Adaptation. The program aims to mobilize US$25.0 billion to "scale up and accelerate climate change adaptation actions across Africa".

US formally steps back into global climate action conversation, currently working on new Paris Agreement commitment

Former US President Donald Trump withdrew from the Paris Agreement on climate action in November 2020. US President Joseph Biden, however, has made the climate crisis a major priority of his new administration. Former Secretary of State John Kerry has been named as Biden's climate envoy with a seat at the National Security Council.  

In his remarks to the virtual Climate Adaption Summit, Kerry told world leaders that the US was rejoining the global climate conversation. “We’re proud to be back. We come back with humility for the absence of the last four years, and we’ll do everything in our power to make up for it,” he said.

Kerry stressed that addressing climate change, including reducing greenhouse gas emissions, needs to be treated as an emergency, and he pledged that the US is working on its new nationally determined contribution (NDC) to be submitted to the UN as part of the Paris Agreement. Kerry also stated that the US would provide "financial assistance to the poorest and most vulnerable" and will "make good on our climate finance pledge.” 

News article - The Guardian

Biden's US will remain member of WHO, join COVAX Facility, repeal 'global gag rule'

Appearing before the Executive Board of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and now the Chief Medical Officer to US President Joe Biden, announced a range of commitments on behalf of the United States.

As expected, Fauci told the Executive Board that the US would remain a member of WHO, which will include full payment of all dues and working with WHO members on reforms. He also announced the intent of the US to support the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A), a global partnership to coordinate tools to fight COVID-19, and to join its COVAX Facility, a global vaccine procurement mechanism.

Fauci also announced that, as part of the US commitment to support sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and girls, Biden would be revoking the infamous Mexico City Policy, otherwise known as the 'global gag rule'.

News article - Reuters

Press release - US Department of Health and Human Services

US Secretary of State nominee will strengthen role of US development programs

Appearing before the US Senate for his confirmation hearing, Anthony Blinken, the nominee for the US Secretary of State for the Biden administration, pledged to strengthen the role of development programs in the US government. Blinken said that US development programs will be elevated to have an equal footing with diplomacy, telling the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that US development should be "front and center" and "not an afterthought".

Blinken's testimony covered a range of topics, including the US's commitments to remaining a member of the World Health Organization, to the equitable global distribution of vaccines, to a return to a human rights framework, to strengthening democracies, and to the consistent application of a gender lens to US foreign policy.

The importance of US development in the new administration has also been underscored by the fact that the next Administrator for the US Agency for International Development (USAID) will—for the first time—have a seat as a principal advisor at the National Security Council.  

News article - Devex

Biden proposes US$11.0 billion more for international COVID-19 relief

As former US President Donald Trump sought to once again cut US foreign assistance through a formal rescission proposal to Congress, the then President-elect Joe Biden proposed US$11.0 billion in international assistance for the COVID-19 response.

The assistance, part of a larger proposal to counter the pandemic, will go toward global health and humanitarian assistance. Biden also pledged to restore the US' global leadership role. 

As one of his first acts upon becoming the US President, Biden officially canceled Trump's rescission proposal.

News article - Devex

In largely symbolic gesture, Trump once again tries to cut US foreign assistance

US President Donald Trump made his last attempt to cut US foreign assistance, sending a package of rescissions to Capitol Hill with proposed cuts of billions of dollars from global health and other foreign assistance. The rescission request has little to no chance of being implemented—Congress would have to affirm the cuts in order to become law and that is unlikely to happen.

Included in the proposed cuts were a US$4.0 billion cut to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, which has been helping to distribute vaccines globally. Other proposed rescissions included a US$1.5 billion cut from emergency overseas food assistance, US$2.0 billion from AIDS assistance funding, and other cuts to humanitarian and democracy programs as well as economic support to a number of countries.

News article - Politico

Former US Ambassador to UN announced as new USAID Administrator

US President-elect Joe Biden announced his intent to nominate Samantha Power to head the US Agency for International Development (USAID).

Power, who served in the Obama administration on both the National Security Council (NSC) and as the US Ambassador to the United Nations, will also have a seat on the NSC, a signal of the elevated power that USAID will have within the new administration.  

Biden, in announcing her nomination, stated that "she will work with our partners to confront the COVID-19 pandemic, lift up vulnerable communities, fight for the value of every human being, and advance American ideals and interests around the globe."

Power, who will need to be confirmed by the US Senate, will take on an agency that had been severely weakened by the Trump administration both in terms of funding cuts and controversial appointees. 

News report - NBC News

USAID's new gender policy faces criticism from Capitol Hill Democrats

After the US Agency for International Development (USAID) released its new gender policy, three US Representatives called on the incoming Biden administration to reject the policy and undertake a consultative process to implement a meaningful gender equality approach. 

The Representatives portrayed the policy as one that would reverse decades of progress and criticized not only the policy's substance but also the process by which it was adopted.

Report - USAID

Press release - Representative Meeks, Lee, and Meng