Donors back vaccine access, US lawmakers seek $12B, and internal displacement soars: This week in development

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A site for internally displaced people in South Sudan. Photo by: UNMISS / Eric Kanalstein / CC BY-NC-ND

The U.K. leads a vaccine-access push, U.S. lawmakers call for global funding, and internal displacement soars to a record high. This week in development:

A group of U.S. lawmakers wants to see $12 billion for the global coronavirus response included in the next supplemental spending bill, which Congress is currently negotiating. On Tuesday, 16 U.S. representatives delivered virtual “special orders,” one-minute remarks that they chose to focus on the need for U.S. leadership in the international response effort. “The United States and the rest of the world cannot afford to relinquish authority over global health security, or to isolate ourselves from protecting the wellbeing of other nations,” said Rep. Ted Yoho, a Republican from Florida. The call comes as advocates criticize the lack of attention from the White House to the global nature of the pandemic, which could fuel its return to countries that have already experienced major outbreaks. Separately, Democratic lawmakers on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs have launched an inquiry into President Donald Trump’s decision to halt funding to the World Health Organization while the White House conducts an unspecified review of the U.N. agency’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Democrats in the Senate, meanwhile, have called for the acting head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, John Barsa, to be added to the White House’s coronavirus task force. “USAID officials have yet to provide any details on the strategy, planning, or priorities of its COVID-19 mission,” the senators wrote in a letter to Vice President Mike Pence. USAID’s response efforts have been limited by restrictions that bar U.S. funding from being used for the purchase of personal protective equipment for other countries. USAID plans to roll out new funding opportunities through its New Partnerships Initiative, in part to find alternative partners for programs that would formerly have been funded through WHO, officials said last week.

The U.K. has pledged over $2 billion for five years to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, committing to remain the largest donor to the organization as it works to ensure global access to an eventual coronavirus vaccine. The country was set to host Gavi’s next replenishment summit, which it will now hold virtually on June 4. Civil society groups said the pledge sends a strong signal to other donors. “As coronavirus vaccine trials begin, we need to make sure any successful vaccine will be available to everyone. Gavi will be integral to achieving this, so we can protect the U.K. and the NHS from future waves of infection,” said Anne-Marie Trevelyan, secretary of state for the U.K. Department for International Development. The country has also joined with other funders to back a new vaccine-access agreement launched by the World Health Organization. The COV-Access Agreement aims to foster “equitable global access to innovative tools for COVID-19 for all” through international coordination and research cooperation, collective decision-making on coronavirus responses, and accountability “to the world.” The U.S. government is notably absent from that agreement, which experts largely attributed to the Trump administration’s current opposition to WHO. “A vaccine or treatment may be developed anywhere in the world — it would be a tragedy if the US absence from this global effort means ... that the countries where US global health has invested for decades miss out on the full benefit,” Amanda Glassman, executive vice president at the Center for Global Development think tank, told Devex via email.

The number of internally displaced people in the world soared to a record high in 2019, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre. The 50.8 million people currently living inside their countries of origin but forced out of their homes represents an almost 25% increase from 2018, which comes at a time when concerns about the spread of COVID-19 are particularly acute for those living in temporary conditions. The pandemic could be both a driver of displacement as well as an additional risk factor for those who are displaced, experts warn. The virus has limited humanitarian access in many parts of the world, reducing basic services and forcing people to seek them elsewhere. Internally displaced populations “are often highly vulnerable people living in crowded camps, emergency shelters, and informal settlements with little or no access to health care. … [COVID-19] will compromise their already precarious living conditions by further limiting their access to essential services and humanitarian aid,” said Alexandra Bilak, IDMC’s director.

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.