Here's how a new European Investment Bank partnership will tackle COVID-19: WHO briefing

'Financial muscle' from the European Investment Bank can help accelerate the creation of new tools to fight the disease, said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Image: Reuters

Linda Lacina
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  • The World Health Organization held a media briefing on 1 May to update the public on the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
  • A new collaboration with the European Investment Bank will help provide the financing needed to strengthen supply chains, infrastructure and global health preparedness.

    A host of global vulnerabilities have been revealed by the coronavirus crisis. To better protect against future pandemics and global health emergencies, the World Health Organization announced a new partnership today with the European Investment Bank (EIB). The collaboration is intended to provide grants and financial support to scale up the funding needed to strengthen supply chains while investing in infrastructure and preparedness.

The initiatives, in collaboration with the world’s largest international bank, will address these key issues:

1. Preventing market failures facing Malaria treatments and vaccines

Hundreds of thousands die from Malaria each year and, according to a recent WHO report, deaths from malaria in sub-Saharan Africa could double this year as the pandemic disrupts vaccine and treatment programs. Tackling malaria is essential to ensuring that health systems tackling coronavirus in these areas are not further overwhelmed.

To help eradicate malaria, “financial muscle” from the European Investment Bank can help accelerate the creation of new tools to fight the disease, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, said in a statement. The WHO and the EIB will work together on a new EU Malaria Fund that will help support the development of more effective vaccines, drugs and diagnostics.

How health service disruptions caused by COVID-19 could impact malaria deaths.
How health service disruptions caused by COVID-19 could impact malaria deaths: A worst-case scenario Image: WHO

2. Supporting the development of new antibacterial treatments

Antibiotic resistance is one of today's most urgent health challenges, according to the Director-General. “It threatens to unravel a century of medical progress, and leave us defenceless against infections that were previously easily treated.

Antibiotics are not always profitable and, as a result, many makers have struggled to survive or have gone bankrupt in recent years, said the Director-General. The few new antibiotics in the pipeline recently "offered little benefit" over existing treatments, he said, with very few targeting the most critical resistant bacteria.

The EIB and the WHO said at least 1 billion euros might be required to develop solutions in the medium term to tackle anti-microbial resistance. The new EIB partnership will help create a new financing initiative to invest in the development of new antibiotics for priority pathogens and create a much-needed pipeline of treatments.

3. Strengthening health systems

Even sophisticated health systems have struggled with the pandemic but developing nations will be impacted even more severely. "The WHO has grave concerns about the potential impact the virus could have as it starts to accelerate in countries with weaker health systems," said the Director-General.

To that end, the WHO will work with the EIB to develop targeted financing to make health systems more resilient and take steps toward Universal Health Coverage. The initiative will encompass fast-track approval of financing for health care, medical equipment and supplies. Efforts in this first phase will focus on the Middle East as well as 10 countries in Africa.

4. Supporting supply chains

The scope of the epidemic has put incredible strain on supply chains, exacerbating shortages of equipment. The EIB partnership will help support efforts to improve distribution of key materials, such as diagnostics, personal protective equipment and other medical supplies.

5. Overcoming market failures in global health

The EIB will serve as an advisor to help identify other vulnerabilities in public health and how to overcome investment barriers to ensure appropriate access to essential products and services. Investments in primary care infrastructure, health workers and improved water, sanitation and hygiene, will make countries more resilient against future pandemics, the WHO said.


What is the World Economic Forum doing about the coronavirus outbreak?

The collaboration was announced as the WHO extended its declaration of public health emergency, its highest call to alarm, a declaration first made on 30 January when fewer than 100 cases had spread outside China. Today there are more than 3.3 million confirmed cases around the globe.

Officials have been clear on the important connection economic factors can have on public health emergencies. Last month, the International Monetary Fund announced a range of measures prioritizing help for emerging economies and developing nations, as well as increased availability of emergency funding. Kristalina Georgieva, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), said at the time: "This is a crisis like no other".

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