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Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs appoints Ambassador for Global Health

The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has appointed John-Arne Røttingen as Norway’s global health ambassador from December 1, 2020. This position will consist of following up the global health efforts and Norwegian participation in international cooperation to combat COVID-19. He will work closely with both the Minister of Development and the Minister of Foreign Affairs.  

Røttingen comes from the position of CEO at the Research Council of Norway as a doctor and epidemiologist. He was central in the work to combat the Ebola outbreak in West Africa where he led the study in which a new Ebola vaccine was tested in Guinea. Most recently, he has been featured in the news in connection with leading the global steering group for a worldwide study of treatment methods and vaccines against COVID-19. 

An important part of the work of Norway's new global health ambassador will be to use their extensive network to try to put in place fair distribution mechanisms so that the poorest countries do not fall far behind in the vaccine queue. The pandemic is a global problem that hits vulnerable groups particularly hard. Therefore, the solution must also be global and reach everyone. Through the government’s strong commitment to establishing and supporting the vaccine coalition CEPI, and through its contribution to the vaccine alliance Gavi, Norway has positioned itself as a key driver for fair global access to vaccines. 

Press Release – Norwegian Government

UK government will close Public Health England, open new National Institute for Health Protection

The UK Secretary of State for Health, Matt Hancock, has announced that the government will be closing Public Health England (PHE) and replacing it with a new National Institute for Health Protection (NIHP).  The NIHP, which will be modeled on Germany's Robert Koch Institute will have the single mission of protecting people from external health threats including pandemics, biological weapons, and infectious diseases.

The new NIHP will formally open in the spring of 2021. However, as an interim measure, the government is combining Public Health England, the NHS’s Test and Trace Network in England, and the Joint Biosphere Centre under a single leadership team, which will be headed by Baroness Dido Harding. Harding currently runs the NHS’s Test and Trace Network and will be the interim chief as the new institute is set up.

The new NIHP will be responsible for the following areas:

  • Emergency response and preparedness to deal with the most severe incidents at the national and local levels;
  • Providing local health protection teams to deal with infections and other threats;
  • Supporting and resourcing local authorities to manage local outbreaks;
  • Managing the COVID-19 testing program and contact tracing program;
  • Running the Joint Biosecurity Centre;
  • Overseeing research and reference laboratories and associated services;
  • Supervising specialist epidemiology and surveillance of all infectious diseases;
  • Running the Centre for Radiation, Chemical, and Environmental Hazards;
  • Overseeing global health security initiatives, including interventions funded via the UK development assistance budget; and
  • Providing specialistic scientific advice on immunization and countermeasures.

The move has been criticized by some who believe that the closure of PHE was politically driven by a desire from the government to blame the organization for the mishandling of the COVID-19 crisis. Others, however, have welcomed the move, noting that PHE, which was formed in 2012, had too broad a mandate, covering health protection and prevention initiatives such as anti-obesity strategies and that this led to its expertise being spread too thin.

Like the former PHE, the Institute will have a key role in UK’s global health security work and will be responsible for delivering key projects funded via the UK’s development assistance budget.

News article - BBC

Press release - UK government

EU supports newly launched consortium aimed at accelerating development of COVID-19 therapies

The EU’s public-private Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) is supporting Corona Accelerated R&D in Europe (CARE) with a grant of €77 million (US$89 million). CARE is a newly launched five-year consortium of 37 partners and the largest effort so far to accelerate the discovery and development of COVID-19 therapies.

The funding comes from EU contributions, 11 European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA) companies, and three IMI Associated Partners.  
 
Press release - Boehringer Ingelheim

Ignoring objections, Trump administration moves forward with proposal to restructure international pandemic response

The White House is moving forward with a proposal to restructure its international pandemic response, despite little consultation with development experts and criticism that the initiative will only add layers of bureaucracy and undermine the United States Agency for International Development.

Development of the President's Response to Outbreaks, dubbed PRO, is being led by the US State Department and has been initiated without any public announcement or consultation. PRO would consolidate all bilateral and multilateral global health responses under the State Department. The program would create a new coordinator position; it is widely thought that Deborah Birx, currently the US global AIDS coordinator, may be named to the post. 

News article - Devex

Opinion piece - The Hill  

Australian university launches Pacific Islands COVID-19 assistance tracker

Griffith University in Queensland, Australia has launched a tracker of COVID-19 assistance to the Pacific Islands. The tool tracks spending including concessional finance, debt forgiveness, in-kind donations, and grant funding.

Details are provided through a clickable map of donations by country. All assistance is shown in US dollars and includes where the funding was reported.

COVID-19 Aid to the Pacific Tracker -  Griffith University

Japan provides US$2 million for development of young government officials from Uzbekistan

The Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) has announced US$2 million (¥290 million) in grants support the development of young administrative officials from the Republic of Uzbekistan. 

According to a MOFA press release, Japan is aiding economic reforms as well as promoting democratization in Uzbekistan. These funds will cover the costs for young administrative officials to obtain a Master or Doctorate degree from a Japanese graduate school, thereby strengthening human resources and the capacity of the Government of Uzbekistan to implement reforms.

Japan has been implementing similar human capital development programs with other partner country governments, such as Mongolia.

Press release – Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (in Japanese)

Press release – Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (in Japanese)

In controversial report, Equality Commission proposes reductions to Swedish ODA in favor of domestic equality initiatives

In a recent report commissioned by the Swedish government, the Equality Commission proposed that official development assistance (ODA) be used to reduce social inequalities and fund integration of foreign-born residents into Swedish society. The Equality Commission was tasked in August 2019 with proposing measures that would help reduce differences in upbringing, education, and working conditions in Swedish society.

Specifically, the August 6, 2020 report recommended that Swedish ODA be temporarily reduced from 1% to 0.7% of GNI and that the savings equivalent to about SEK 15-16 billion (US$1.7 -1.8 billion) annually be allocated to finance the Commission’s proposal. The Commission justified its proposed reduction of ODA with the notable increase in private development assistance over the past few years.

What has happened over the last half century is that private flows have grown radically, both direct investment and what are called remittances. That is, the money that migrants send back to their families in the countries of origin," said Per Molander, Chair of the Equality Commission and former Director-General of the Swedish Social Insurance Inspectorate. "The two flows are individually far greater than public aid is today."

The report has received substantial criticism from various influential stakeholders in the Swedish ODA sector, such as Peter Eriksson, Minister for International Development Cooperation, and Petra Tötterman Andorff, Chair of Concord Sweden, and Secretary-general for the NGO, Kvinna till Kvinna.

"It is particularly tone-deaf to make such a proposal in the midst of a pandemic that has made it clearer than ever that global crises require more international cooperation, not less," said Petra Tötterman Andorff.

Press release – Omvärlden (in Swedish)

EU’s 'external action' budget is insufficient, say German Development Minister and leader of European People's Party

In a joint open editorial published in the German newspaper “Handelsblatt”, German Development Minister Gerd Müller and the Leader of the European People's Party in the European Parliament, Manfred Weber, called on the EU to increase the budget for the EU’s ‘external action` in the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) 2021-2027. They also suggested abandoning the unanimity rule to ensure the EU’s ability to act in its foreign and development policy. 

Pointing to persisting wars as well as global challenges such as climate change, food insecurity, and the COVID-19 pandemic, they outlined the need for a united Europe willing to take geopolitical responsibility in a turbulent world. However, with less than 10% of the budget currently earmarked for its external action, Europe denies itself the ability to act, they stated.

Müller and Weber further highlighted the importance of funding for an effective Africa strategy to enable the continent to become economically self-sustaining. To this end, new instruments such as a European Investment and Development Bank would be necessary, they said.

News article – Handelsblatt (in German)

Japan dispatches two emergency relief teams to support Mauritius oil spill response

Japan has dispatched two emergency relief teams to Mauritius, where the shipwreck of a Japanese-operated freighter has led to the leakage of tons of oil into the sea.

Japan's efforts are in response to a call for assistance following the crash of the MV Wakashio off the coast of the island nation in late July. The  two teams, dispatched by the Government of Japan on August 10 and August 19 respectively, will help recover the heavy oil spilled and prevent further spillage. Furthermore, the Japanese Ministry of the Environment has now gotten involved by sending two experts from the National Institute for Environmental Studies.

News article – Nikkei Shimbun (in Japanese)

Press release Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs

European Commission strikes first purchasing deal for future COVID-19 vaccines with AstraZeneca

The European Commission reached its first deal to purchase future potential COVID-19 vaccines through a newly signed agreement with AstraZeneca. The deal includes the option to purchase 300 million doses and 100 million more on behalf of EU member states, should the vaccine prove to be effective. The deal would also allow the EU to donate vaccine doses to low-and middle-income countries or to redirect these doses to other European countries.

AstraZeneca’s vaccine candidate is currently in large-scale phase II/III clinical trials. The Commission has also been in negotiations with Sanofi-GSK and Johnson & Johnson on COVID-19 vaccine advance-purchasing deals.
 
Press release - European Commission

With Spain's humanitarian asistance down to 2% of ODA, NGOs call for government action

In recognition of World Humanitarian Day on August 19, 2020, the Spanish development NGO umbrella organization La Coordinadora released a communiqué calling upon the government of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to increase Spain’s spending for humanitarian assistance.

La Coordinadora urged the government to strengthen the Foreign Ministry’s Humanitarian Assistance Office and to increase the funding to development NGOs.

Spain's current humanitarian assistance flows have dropped sixfold compared to 2008 figures, now representing just 2% of Spain’s official development assistance (ODA), well below to the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) average of 10%.

Press release – La Coordinadora (in Spanish)

As COVID-19 becomes new normal, South Korea’s Foreign Ministry consults private sector specialists on international development propsects

The Vice Foreign Minister of South Korea organized the third meeting with private sector specialists to discuss the way forward for international cooperation against the backdrop of the new normal that is COVID-19.

Experts in medicine, public health, economics, and technology discussed major changes in the prospects of cooperation for infectious disease response, the development of new technology, and the reorganization of the global economy and industry, with conversations highlighting South Korea’s role in this changing global environment.

Participants stressed that in keeping with the ongoing pandemic and its associated paradigm shifts, South Korea’s foreign strategy should be comprehensive and long-term. The Foreign Ministry, they said, should readjust its strategies promptly and proactively.

Press release – Ministry of Foreign Affairs (in Korean)

Norwegian party leaders spar over national and international vaccine development priorities

During Arendalsuka, an annual weeklong political gathering, a debate among Norwegian party leaders on the topic of the COVID-19 response was marked by several heated discussions.

Trygve Slagsvold Vedum, leader of the Center Party, was asked his opinion on how Norway should approach a possible COVID-19 vaccine. Vedum argued that the most important task of a Norweigian elected official is to ensure the security of the Norwegian population’s food supply and health status. Norway should secure vaccines for the young, the old, and key national personnel, he said. 

The Christian Democrats and the Green Party both voiced concerns about Vedum’s statements during the debate, emphasizing the need for international cooperation in the face of a global pandemic.  

Following the debate, parliamentary representative and foreign policy spokesman for the Christian Democrats, Geir Toskedal, criticized Vedum's statements. Securing a vaccine for the world’s poorest will be extremely important, he said, and will save an enormous number of lives. 

The Center Party's parliamentary leader later noted that the Center Party is not, in fact, against international vaccine cooperation, and that they support the international vaccine alliance Covax.

News article - Vårt Land (in Norweigan)

European Commission concludes talks with Johnson & Johnson on purchasing future COVID-19 vaccine

The European Commission concluded talks with Johnson & Johnson (J&J) to advance purchase of the J&J’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate. The potential contract would include an initial purchase of 200 million doses and the possibility of an additional 200 million doses. The contract would also include provisions allowing all EU member states to purchase the vaccine, donate vaccines to low- and middle-income countries, or redirect vaccines to other European countries. 
 
Press release - European Commission

Canada creates task force to support victims of Beirut explosion

Canada's Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, Marco Mendicino, and Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs, François-Philippe Champagne, have announced a Canadian task force on Lebanon to support consular and immigration services. This task force is aimed at financially and logistically assisting affected Canadians and their families living in Lebanon as well as Lebanese citizens in Canada.

Canada understands the strong "people-to-people ties" between Canada and Lebanon and has committed to remaining engaged and available to provide support. 

News release - Global Affairs Canada 

As USAID previews new gender policy with no mention of contraception or transgender populations, critics warn of dangerous regression

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has unveiled a draft gender policy that not only eliminates all mention of transgender populations but also fails to mention contraceptives, instead referring to "fertility awareness" and "health timing and spacing of pregnancies" as family planning methods.

The document, which is out for a one-week public comment period, is a departure from the 2012 gender policy and is also at odds with USAID's Automated Directives System which provides the USAID organizational and functional rules.

The new proposal was drafted largely in secret with little opportunity for either the internal gender experts or outside advocates to give input.

News article - Pro Publica

Draft policy - USAID

New G-FINDER report on sexual and reproductive health R&D finds new products, investments, funders required for many needs

A new report from G-FINDER tracking the landscape of research and development (R&D) for sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) has highlighted several promising developments in the field, but notes that the vast majority of the funding comes from just a few investors and that funding overall is insufficient. This means that needs often go unmet, particularly in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).

“Many people, especially women, are dying and suffering from preventable and treatable issues of sexual and reproductive health, while the products currently available are not enough to change this,” said Dr Nick Chapman, CEO of Policy Cures Research. “There’s a clear gap in investment to research and develop new products to meet people’s needs in low-resource settings. With a few funders stepping in to fill this gap, there are missed opportunities to make a real impact on the lives of people in LMICs.”

Press release - Policy Cures Research

Report - G-FINDER

 

Japan provides food assistance to Guinea-Bissau

Japan will provide ¥250 million (US$2 million) in food assistance to Guinea-Bissau through the World Food Programme (WFP).

In Guinea-Bissau, natural disasters, flood damage, and a lack of agricultural machinery have led to chronic food shortages. About 70% of people live below the poverty line, and about 25% are undernourished. These funds aim to improve food conditions by providing food such as potatoes, canned fish, and beans.

Press release – Ministry of Foreign Affairs (in Japanese)

European Council concludes exploratory talks with Dutch company Janssen Pharmaceutica for delivery of 400 million COVID-19 vaccines

The European Commission (EC) completed exploratory talks regarding a possible COVID-19 vaccine provided by the Dutch company Janssen Pharmaceutica. The EU Member States will have the opportunity to buy 400 million vaccines, 200 million initially with the option for an additional 200 million if the development of the vaccine is successful.

The negotiations with Janssen Pharmaceutica were led by the Netherlands, Spain, and the European Council. The Netherlands plays a pivotal role in the creation of the vaccine because its development and production will primarily take place in the Dutch city of Leiden. An important negotiating point for the Netherlands is the possibility to donate vaccines to vulnerable countries.

Press release – Dutch Government (in Dutch)

Japan provides US$3.1 billion in loans for development in Bangladesh

Japan has agreed to provide ¥338 billion (US$3.1 billion) of loans for the following seven projects:

  1. Jamuna Railway Bridge Construction Project (II): ¥89 billion (US$835 million)
  2. Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport Expansion Project (II): ¥80 billion (US$751 million)
  3. Dhaka Mass Rapid Transit Development Project (IV): ¥72 billion (US$677 million)
  4. Dhaka Mass Rapid Transit Development Project (Line 5 Northern Route) (I): ¥55 billion (US$523 million)
  5. Chattogram – Cox’s Bazar Highway Improvement Project (E/S): ¥2 billion (US$18 million)
  6. Food Value Chain Improvement Project: ¥11 billion (US$105 million)
  7. Urban Development and City Governance Project: ¥28 billion (US$265 million)

This is the largest ever loan package for Bangladesh from Japan. The interest rate is 0.65% per annum (payments to consultants: 0.01% per annum) with a 20-year repayment period and a 10-year grace period.

Press release – The Japan Cooperation Agency