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16 March 2020Big PharmaEdward Pearcey

WHO launches international fund to fight COVID-19

The World Health Organization (WHO) has launched a Solidarity Response Fund, offering companies, foundations and individuals the chance to donate to the WHO’s global response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

According to a WHO statement, this “first-of-its-kind fund [is] expected to attract millions of dollars in contributions from major companies, and will become the leading mechanism worldwide for businesses, philanthropies, and individuals to contribute”.

“We are at a critical point in the global response to COVID-19. We need everyone to get involved in this massive effort to keep the world safe,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general, WHO.

“We are immensely grateful to the UN Foundation and the Swiss Philanthropy Foundation for coming forward to help us set up this fund. A lot of people and institutions have been saying they want to contribute to the fight against the novel coronavirus. Now they can,” he added.

The statement added that as this outbreak evolves, funding needs are likely to increase, and “contributions to the fund will play a critical role in country-level support”. This support will include tracking and understanding the spread of the virus, and ensuring patients get the care they need, and frontline workers get supplies and information.

The fund launches with major support already lined up, including from Facebook and Google who have instituted a matching scheme for funds raised through their platforms, while individual donors are also supporting the fund here.

Funds will go towards actions outlined in the COVID-19 Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan to enable all countries (particularly those most vulnerable and at-risk, and with the weakest health systems) to prepare for and respond to the COVID-19 crisis including rapidly detecting cases, stopping transmission of the virus, and caring for those affected.

On Wednesday, March 11, the WHO declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, after the viral infection had spread to numerous countries and had infected almost 135,000 people, the majority of whom are in China. Globally, the death toll stands at almost 5,000.

On Wednesday this week, the European Medicines Agency (EMA), an agency of the European Union in charge of the evaluation and supervision of medicinal products, said that no drug shortages or supply disruptions due to the coronavirus outbreak have been reported, but that a steering group has convened to address the epidemic’s impact on the supply of medicines in the EU.

“As the public health emergency develops, shortages or disruptions cannot be excluded,” the EMA said in a statement. The EMA, the European Commission and national competent authorities in the member states have organised the first meeting of the steering group on shortages of medicines caused by major events.

It added: “The mandate of this group is to provide strategic leadership for urgent and coordinated action within the EU in case a crisis caused by major events, such as the COVID-19 outbreak, risks impacting the supply of medicinal products for human and veterinary use.”

The commission has also revealed a European coordinated response to counter the economic impact of COVID-19, and will use “all the instruments at its disposal to mitigate the consequences of the pandemic”.

The commission will ensure the necessary supplies to “our health systems by preserving the integrity of production and distribution of value chains”, and allow “member states to act decisively in a coordinated way, through using the “full flexibility of our state aid and stability and growth pact frameworks”.

“The coronavirus pandemic is testing us all. This is not only an unprecedented challenge for our healthcare systems, but also a major shock for our economies,” said Ursula von der Leyen, president of the commission.

Updates on COVID-19's impact on IP can be followed on WIPR’s live blog.

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