The WHO Foundation launches, the U.S. State Department mulls a new global health security initiative, and a pledging conference finally delivers funding for Venezuelan migrants and refugees. This week in development:
The U.S. State Department is considering a new global health security initiative, according to documents the agency is circulating. The President’s Response to Outbreaks would authorize a new State Department coordinator overseeing pandemic preparedness and establish a new fund to fight pandemics. The proposal appears to consolidate the U.S. government’s work on global health at the State Department, a move that has raised concerns even as many details remain unclear. The documents outlining the initiative make no mention of the U.S. Agency for International Development or Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, two of the primary agencies implementing global health programs. A USAID employee said officials at the agency believe that, under this proposal, some global health and humanitarian funds and programs currently managed by USAID would be shifted to the State Department and to the new coordinator’s portfolio.
This is one of several proposals for how the U.S. could better manage global health security efforts. Sen. James Risch, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, introduced a bill Friday that proposes a reorganization, including a new coordinator at the State Department, though his legislation seems to retain a more robust role for USAID.
Donors raised $2.79 billion in commitments for Venezuelan refugees and migrants in a virtual pledging conference livestreamed on YouTube. The event was supported by UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration, the European Union, and Spain. Representatives of the U.N. agencies said they were pleased with the results. Prior to the conference, the Regional Refugee and Migrant Response Plan for Venezuelans was only 10% funded; now, it is almost 50% funded.
The WHO Foundation launched Wednesday in an effort to help the World Health Organization broaden its donor base. The independent foundation will help streamline philanthropic contributions from the general public, individual major donors, and corporate partners, which will then be delivered as grants to WHO and implementing partners. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had floated the idea at a board meeting in January 2019, saying the creation of the foundation was one of the recommendations that senior management had received from staff. It is spearheaded by Thomas Zeltner, former secretary of health for Switzerland and director-general of the Swiss National Health Authority.
The European Commission proposed boosting foreign spending by €16.5 billion ($18.2 billion) as part of its COVID-19 recovery package. NGOs were relieved by the commission’s move to increase funding Wednesday, as some had feared further cuts. The proposal, which must still be approved by EU states, would allocate €86 billion to the bloc’s main development instrument for 2021-2027, up 8.6% from the commission’s first outline in 2018 and almost 14% compared with the latest numbers proposed at a meeting of heads of state in February. The decision is “politically and symbolically very important,” but it was not a given in the current climate, according to Stefano Manservisi, former director-general of the commission’s development department and now a distinguished nonresident fellow at the Center for Global Development. “Clearly, the risk was to send a message — ‘Well, we take care of ourselves first, and then we see about the others,’” he said.
Australia will release a new aid policy in response to the COVID-19 pandemic on Friday. The policy will center on health security, stability, and recovery in the Indo-Pacific region, with a focus on women and girls, as well as people living with disabilities. It does not detail how the aid program will operate, and no additional funding is expected to be allocated for achieving its objectives. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has already diverted funding from other programs to support the coronavirus response and is working in partnership with recipient countries to “pivot our support to meet emergency health and medical needs and provide financial support, drawing on our existing aid program,” a spokesperson told Devex.