Norway strengthens global pandemic preparedness efforts

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After more than two years of coping with a pandemic, Norway is joining a new initiative to strengthen global pandemic preparedness. The aim is to mitigate the risk and consequences of a new pandemic. ‘The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of strengthening global health preparedness, especially in poor countries. If a virus is allowed to continue to spread in one country, it will threaten the health security of us all,’ said Minister of International Development Anne Beathe Tvinnereim.

Norway will provide seed funding for a new financing mechanism to improve global health preparedness. The goal is to enhance the ability of all countries to prevent, detect and respond to new outbreaks of infectious disease, with a focus on countries with weak health systems and to strengthen global and regional cooperation. The Financial Intermediary Fund (FIF) for Pandemic Prevention, Preparedness and Response is being established by the World Bank in close association with the World Health Organization (WHO) and other international and regional organisations. The first governing board meeting is being held on 8 and 9 September.

‘No country can prevent or address challenges like the Covid-19 pandemic that we just experienced on its own. We are all equally vulnerable and there is a need for common solutions. The question is not if, but when, a new pandemic will emerge. This initiative will make it possible to detect virus outbreaks earlier, provide information about them more quickly, and respond to them more effectively,’ said Ms Tvinnereim.

The new funding mechanism addresses shortcomings in the Covid-19 response. Experts have long emphasised the importance of systems to monitor new outbreaks of infectious disease. Hospitals, primary care services and national public health institutes must be equipped to detect emerging threats and implement pandemic countermeasures swiftly. The Covid-19 pandemic demonstrated the crucial importance of the rapid development of effective vaccines, medicines and tests. There must be an adequate supply of personal protective equipment. When the Covid-19 pandemic struck, countries and health systems were insufficiently prepared. The world’s leading global health institutions also lacked available funds to finance risk-based vaccine development and procurement.

‘Global health preparedness is not only good insurance, but is also critical in the fight against poverty. The poor are still disproportionately affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, and people in developing countries will pay an even higher price if they are not prepared for the next pandemi. Health crises also compound challenges relating to poverty, food security and development,’ said Ms Tvinnereim.

Exacerbate other crises

The Covid-19 pandemic and other health crises, including the indirect effects on travel and trade, exacerbate other crises, with ramifications for food security and poverty, which in turn increases the risk of conflict and instability. Cooperation to address common global health challenges is therefore an important priority in foreign and security policy.

‘Rapid and effective pandemic response and improved preparedness are essential to achieve social, economic and political development. The pandemic has shown us that inequalities in access to vaccines, testing and treatment widen the gap between rich and poor countries. This can fuel distrust between countries and reduce confidence in multilateral mechanisms, with repercussions for foreign and security policy,’ said Minister of Foreign Affairs Anniken Huitfeldt.

Throughout the pandemic Norway has played a leading role in the international effort to promote equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines, medicines, tests and protective equipment. Norway and South Africa have co-chaired the Facilitation Council of the Access to Covid-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A). The ACT-A collaboration will be phased out in the autumn of 2022 and Norway will draw on its experience in its work on the new pandemic initiative.

‘Countries must invest more in pandemic preparedness. Better local, regional and global systems for monitoring new viruses and bacteria, including anti-microbial resistance, are also needed. Norway is working to promote an inclusive governing board for the new mechanism that will involve participation by low- and middle-income countries and civil society,’ Ms Tvinnereim said.

In June, the World Bank approved the establishment of the new Financial Intermediary Fund (FIF) for Pandemic Prevention, Preparedness and Response.

The FIF is being established in close association with the WHO.

The United States, the European Union, Germany, Indonesia, China, Singapore and a dozen other countries are are providing financial support, as are multiple philanthropic donors. Financial contributors, low- and middle-income countries, civil society organisations and philanthropic donors will be represented on the board.

Norway is providing seed funding from its aid budget.

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Facts about ACT-A

Norway has co-chaired the Access to Covid-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A) Facilitation Council together with South Africa.

In the spring of 2020 no common platform existed for international coordination of pandemic-related efforts. ACT-A has led the acute phase of the pandemic response.

The vaccines pillar has delivered 1.6 billion vaccine doses, including 76 per cent of the vaccines provided to low-income countries. While 68 % of the world’s population overall has received at least one vaccine dose, only 21 % of the population of low-income countries has received a first dose.

ACT-A has delivered 951 million tests and played an important role in promoting the equitable distribution of Covid-19 treatments and protective equipment.

Norway and South Africa have taken the initiative for an independent evaluation of ACT-A, which will be phased out in autumn 2022. Norway will draw on lessons learned from its work in ACT-A in the ongoing effort to strengthen global health preparedness.