Aid to Myanmar, COVAX's vaccine forecast, and PEPFAR leadership: This week in development

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Citizens hold up a picture of leader Aung San Suu Kyi after the military seized power in Myanmar. Photo by: Jorge Silva / REUTERS

Myanmar’s coup raises new questions about development engagement, COVAX shares a vaccine distribution forecast, and Biden’s plan for PEPFAR is still up in the air. This week in development:

The military takeover in Myanmar fits the description of a coup d’etat, according to the U.S. Department of State — a designation that could have significant implications for development engagement with the country.

  • Any U.S. foreign assistance that is provided to the government will be suspended. The “vast majority” of U.S. aid to Myanmar goes to humanitarian relief or nongovernmental organizations, a U.S. official told reporters Tuesday, adding that the administration is conducting “a broader review of our assistance programs to ensure they align with recent events.”

  • Humanitarian groups are warning that the military’s seizure of power could lead to increased violence, further persecution of ethnic minorities, and even more challenges around humanitarian access — which was already difficult due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They also say safe, voluntary repatriation of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh is now off the table.

  • U.S. President Joe Biden is weighing sanctions against the country’s military leadership, and Myanmar’s development partners can expect greater scrutiny of their investments to ensure they are not advancing the military’s interests. The International Monetary Fund sent $350 million in cash to the government of Myanmar last week, which it has no way to get back, according to Reuters.

COVAX released a country-by-country forecast for vaccine distribution Wednesday, which provides participants in the global initiative with a preview of how many doses of Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca-University of Oxford vaccines they can expect in the near future.

  • Countries will receive doses in proportion to their population sizes. The current projection is that distribution will reach roughly 3.3% of the total population of the 145 facility participants in the coming months.

  • Only 18 countries will receive the Pfizer vaccine during the first round of distribution, due to its ultracold chain requirements and the limited supply available. China plans to donate 10 million coronavirus vaccine doses to the COVAX Facility, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin announced Wednesday.

  • COVAX aims to provide access to almost 2.3 billion doses of vaccines this year, but that target could be affected by funding, supply volumes, regulatory approval, and country readiness. In December, The Associated Press reported that COVAX’s financial adviser, Citigroup, warned that the facility’s “risk exposure” could lead it to fail.

President Joe Biden has yet to name a successor to Deborah Birx for one of the highest-profile positions in U.S. global health: the U.S. global AIDS coordinator.

  • Multiple sources told Devex that five people in the running are: Shannon Hader, deputy executive director at UNAIDS; Charles Holmes, director at Georgetown University’s Center for Innovation in Global Health; Chris Beyrer, professor of public health and human rights at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health; Vanessa Kerry, founder and CEO at Seed Global Health and daughter of former Secretary of State John Kerry; and Paul Farmer, co-founder and chief strategist at Partners In Health.

  • “I think a lot of the advocacy community was really pushing for leadership positions across the board. And yet to have that be missing as a leadership position … to me, that’s a strange look,” one U.S. global health expert said.

About the author

  • Michael Igoe

    Michael Igoe is a Senior Reporter with Devex, based in Washington, D.C. He covers U.S. foreign aid, global health, climate change, and development finance. Prior to joining Devex, Michael researched water management and climate change adaptation in post-Soviet Central Asia, where he also wrote for EurasiaNet. Michael earned his bachelor's degree from Bowdoin College, where he majored in Russian, and his master’s degree from the University of Montana, where he studied international conservation and development.