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The Democratic Republic of Congo is returning 1.3 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to COVAX, after concluding it will not be able to administer them before they expire.

The country received 1.7 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine from the global distribution facility in early March. The government paused its vaccine rollout after several European countries suspended their use of the vaccine due to concerns about blood clots. The country has only distributed 1,000 doses since launching the vaccination campaign on April 19, Sara Jerving reports.

Vaccine hesitancy is a big obstacle. Studies by the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention found that only 59% of respondents in DRC were willing to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Overall, respondents were wary of the safety of COVID-19 vaccines — with the exception of Ethiopia, where 94% of respondents were willing to be vaccinated.

• Dr. John Nkengasong, Africa CDC director, urged African countries to accept the vaccine that is available to them. “We do not have choices,” he said at a briefing on Thursday. WHO’s Africa director, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, applauded DRC’s “extremely wise” and “very generous” decision to return the vaccines for use elsewhere.

• The World Bank previously found that out of 128 countries it surveyed, only 30% had plans for scaling up the necessary workforce to deliver vaccines.

Read: DRC to return 1.3M COVAX vaccine doses before expiry

ONE YEAR ON

Just over one year after COVAX began operations, Gavi is laying the groundwork for an independent evaluation, Jenny Lei Ravelo reports. As of Thursday, COVAX had shipped 49 million doses to 121 countries, or 2.45% of its 2 billion doses target in 2021. A new analysis projects the world will spend $157 billion on COVID-19 vaccines by 2025.

Read: Gavi wants to assess COVAX

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MIXED SIGNALS

Earlier this month USAID’s independent watchdog quietly released an audit report that found that interagency conflicts and competing foreign policy interests impeded the U.S. government’s delivery of humanitarian assistance to Venezuela, Teresa Welsh reports.

Here are some of the more eye-opening findings:

• USAID’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance and Office of Food for Peace spent roughly $2 million to deliver 368 metric tons of humanitarian commodities to the Colombia-Venezuela border and Curaçao from February 2019 through April 2019. But by August 2019, only 8 metric tons were delivered to Venezuela, while the rest was distributed inside Colombia or shipped to Somalia.

• The Office of the Administrator — led at the time by Mark Green — “directed OFDA and FFP to align their award decisions toward reinforcing the Interim Government’s credibility.”

• Under pressure from the White House National Security Council and the State Department, the USAID administrator issued directives to OFDA and FFP that “deviated from humanitarian principles and heightened security and fiduciary risks.”

Read: Just 2% of US aid to Venezuela reached the country, report finds

GRADE INFLATION

The U.S. government’s system for evaluating contractors’ performance does not have a lot of fans. USAID is among a group of agencies that is trying to improve the contractor performance assessment system — with some help from artificial intelligence. Experts say this pilot program could have some specific implications for the development community.

Devex Pro: USAID enlists AI to fix 'inconsistent' contractor evaluations

THE HITS KEEP COMING

“These shameful cuts to HIV funding risk abandoning the UK’s leadership and influence within the HIV response at a pivotal moment.”

— Saoirse Fitzpatrick, advocacy manager at STOPAIDS

UNAIDS is the latest victim of the U.K. government’s aid budget cuts. On Thursday, HIV advocates informed Will Worley and Sara that the U.K. contribution to UNAIDS will be slashed by 83%. This follows similarly harsh cuts for UNFPA and funding for polio.

Read: UK cuts funding for UNAIDS by 83%

DIPLOMATIC IMMUNITY

While New York City plans to fully reopen by July 1, the United Nations headquarters is still mostly empty — less than 10% of staff have returned to work in the building, according to Al Jazeera. Russia’s ambassador to the U.N. Security Council argued Wednesday that diplomats should return to working in person, calling the current approach “overcautious.” Most seem to agree that diplomacy via Zoom is wearing thin.

IN OTHER NEWS

The U.K. will hold a replenishment summit for the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations in 2022, in support of the goal to speed up vaccine research and development for future health emergencies. [UK Press Release]

Germany's future aid to Afghanistan will be contingent on upholding democratic standards in the South Asian country, according to German foreign minister Heiko Maas. [Reuters]

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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.