Speech/statement | Date: 23/11/2020
By Former Minister of International Development Dag-Inge Ulstein (23 November)
Minister of International Development Dag-Inge Ulstein's remarks at a press conference with World Health Organization (WHO) on Norway's efforts in Access to Covid-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A).
As of today, there are more than 55.5 million confirmed cases of Covid-19.
Even as I speak, there are people receiving the news that they have tested positive.
And others are being told that their loved ones have died. More than 1 million deaths.
Every second matters.
This pandemic is not going away if we sit still and do nothing. Moreover, it is not going away if countries take a ‘my nation first’ approach.
Such ‘vaccine nationalism’ is not only morally reprehensible - it is also extremely short-sighted. Because as we have already heard many times: we are not safe until we all are safe.
Our economies will continue to decline if countries with a large number of cases lag behind in obtaining the vaccine and other medicines.
We are in this together. We can only succeed in winning this battle if we work together as a team.
But time is running out.
This is not just a health crisis. It is an economic crisis. It is a nutrition crisis. It is a protection crisis. It is a humanitarian crisis. I could go on and on.
The real-world ramifications of the pandemic are all too clear:
Every day, more jobs are being lost.
The ILO estimates that 495 million full-time jobs will be lost in the second half of 2020.
Every day, more people are being pushed into extreme poverty.
The World Bank estimates that the numbers may reach an overwhelming 150 million people. One hundred and fifty.
Every day, children around the world are trying to learn from home, as their schools have been closed in an attempt to contain the global pandemic.
This has taken 1.6 billion pupils out of classrooms around the globe.
For millions of girls and young women, particularly those in the world’s least developed countries, school shutdowns bring other problems, such as greater risk of domestic violence and sexual abuse.
This pandemic affects us all but it does not affect us all equally.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres warns that the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic are falling ‘disproportionately on the most vulnerable: people living in poverty, the working poor, women and children, persons with disabilities, and other marginalised groups.’
This is easy to disregard as pandemic fatigue sets in.
But now is not a time to feel sad about events not attended or dinner parties postponed. We owe it to the most vulnerable to do whatever we can to bring this pandemic to an end.
The human costs of not acting are obvious. So are the economic consequences.
The IMF predicts a loss of 11 trillion dollars in global GDP in 2021. Behind these forecasts lie businesses, jobs, local communities, families and individuals. As economies bleed, futures are being stolen, educational opportunities lost, and mental health problems are escalating. The sooner we bring the pandemic under control, the sooner we can reopen societies and get the global economy back on track.
To stop the pandemic, we have to develop effective diagnostics, therapeutic drugs, and vaccines.
But that is just the start. We cannot stop the pandemic unless these tools are fairly distributed to people around the world.
To succeed, we need to engage with civil societies, humanitarian organisations, and private sector.
And yes, there is hope.
- We have tests that provide results in less than 30 minutes.
- We have better knowledge of how to treat the disease.
- We have a broad portfolio of vaccine candidates on the cusp of finalising phase 3 trials.
However, we must make sure that we do not end up having the tools but lacking the infrastructure to make them available to all.
Fortunately there is a clear path forward, and that is the Access to Covid-19 Tools Accelerator.
This initiative was set up to promote equitable global coverage of vaccines, tests and treatments, and strengthen health systems.
In just six months, ACT-Accelerator partners have compiled the world’s largest portfolio of precisely these tools. To continue rolling out rapid testing, evaluating new treatments, and ensuring access to vaccines as soon as they are licensed, the ACT-Accelerator urgently needs USD 4.3 billion and a further USD 23.9 billion in 2021.
23.9 billion dollars sounds like a lot. But this amount is less than one-tenth of one percentage point of global GDP. In other words: if G20 countries were to devote just one percent of their current stimulus spending on efforts to alleviate the economic ramifications of the pandemic globally, they would more than cover what is needed by the ACT-Accelerator.
I would argue that this is a small price to pay to get the world back on track.
Once full travel and trade are restored, this investment would be repaid in as little as 36 hours. A mere 36 hours!
I think we all know that inaction will cost us far more than action. It is the best business case ever. And it is the only solution. There is no plan B.
Each dollar, pound, euro, yuan and yen spent on the ACT-Accelerator is underwriting future demand for goods and services, so that global trade and growth can bounce back. This should be an easy decision for world leaders everywhere - and an obvious decision for the G20 this weekend.
In a letter sent last week, South Africa, Norway, the European Commission and WHO called on G20 countries to view support to the global Covid-19 response as part of their domestic stimulus spending, and to contribute substantial amounts to fully fund the ACT-Accelerator.
And as the G20 Summit in Saudi Arabia closes, it is clear that we are being heard.
The 20 biggest economies vowed to spare no effort to supply Covid-19 drugs, tests and vaccines to ‘all people.’
Yes, we still have a long way to go and the pledging marathon will continue. But the recent news about coronavirus vaccines, and the strong support from the G20 meeting in addressing the need for solidarity and multilateral cooperation, make me believe there is room for cautious optimism.
Only a fundamental change in funding and approach will turn new hope of technological achievements into an effective weapon against the virus and allow us to change the course of the pandemic. I trust that every world leader can see that this problem cannot be resolved unless we all work together. The enormous cost to human life and the wide-ranging implications of prolonging this pandemic should be incentive enough.
What we have achieved so far is remarkable.
Despite the many ongoing conflicts in the world, despite the many difficult topics, the countries of the world are united in this effort. When it comes to ACT-A, we are all seated around the same table.
Of course, we each come to the table with different perspectives and different needs. But so far everyone has been willing to listen, to try to understand and meet each other.
When we truly recognise how closely all our countries and all our people are tied together, it becomes much more important to work towards the overall collective goal instead of just pursuing what we see as the best solution for ourselves.