WHO starts global response project for COVID-19. But the US doesn’t want to participate

If there’s one thing that’s needed to deal with a pandemic, that’s global cooperation to create a medical response. But that doesn’t seem to be on the plans of the United States government.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Credit WHO

The World Health Organization (WHO) is starting an international project involving countries, industry groups, and non-governmental organizations to develop and produce drugs, vaccines, and tests for COVID19 — without the participation of the US.

“There will be no U.S. official participation”, a spokesman for the U.S. mission in Geneva told Reuters. “We look forward to learning more about this initiative in support of international cooperation to develop a vaccine for COVID-19 as soon as possible.”

The WHO is the UN agency responsible for global public health. It has 194 member states, and aims to “promote health, keep the world safe, and serve the vulnerable.” It is involved in vaccination campaigns, health emergencies, and supporting countries.

The initiative headed by the WHO, so far being called Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator, will seek to ensure global access to the medical products, making them available to both rich and poor populations alike.

The coronavirus pandemic has so far infected more than 2.7 million people across the globe and claimed approximately 191,000 lives. In the US, a total 986,000 cases have been so far reported as well as 55,000 deaths.

“The world needs these tools, and it needs them fast,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in the presentation of the initiative. “Past experience has taught us that even when tools are available, they have been not been equally available to all. We cannot allow that to happen.”

Nevertheless, the project is in its early stages. Countries and organizations have been encouraged to start making pledges, hoping to get initial funding worth $8 billion. When that happens, other milestones will be announced, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said.

The aim of the project is to develop a voluntary pool to collect patent rights, regulatory test data, and other types of information that could be helpful to develop drugs, vaccines and tests. But it’s not clear yet how will this be instrumented among the members of the initiative.

Many have so far said yes to the project, such as the UK, France, South Africa, the World Bank, the UN, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers.

The decision of the US not to participate in the initiative follows a similar move by the government to stop funding the WHO. The agency has “failed in its basic duty” in response to the coronavirus outbreak, US President Donald Trump said last week.

The health agency warned last week that the “worst is yet ahead of us” in the coronavirus outbreak, as some European and Asian countries started to relax the lockdown measures. Trump has repeatedly said the economy should be reopened as soon as possible.

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