Gavi hits its mark — with a surprise appearance, Trump plans to “terminate” America’s relationship with the World Health Organization, and Yemen faces a $1 billion funding shortfall. This week in development:
The Gavi replenishment on Thursday surpassed the vaccine alliance’s target of $7.4 billion, securing $8.8 billion for 2021 to 2025. The virtual event, hosted by the U.K., saw donations from more than 50 countries and organizations, including a $1.6 billion pledge from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Gavi aims to reach another 300 million children with immunizations against diseases such as measles, polio, and diphtheria over the next five years. “I hope this summit will be the moment when the world comes together to unite humanity in the fight against disease,” said U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson. The U.K. government is the world’s largest donor to Gavi and has committed to contributing more than $2 billion over the five-year period. Representatives from both the Chinese government and the World Health Organization were present at the event, which also saw a surprise appearance by U.S. President Donald Trump, who said he was persuaded to join by Johnson. The shadow of the coronavirus pandemic was ever-present, and donors stressed the importance of stopping the spread of preventable diseases to reduce pressure on health systems. Dr. Seth Berkley, CEO at Gavi, warned historic advances in global health were at risk of “unraveling” amid the pandemic. “We face the very real prospect of a global resurgence of diseases like measles, polio, and yellow fever, which would put us all at risk. … That’s why today’s Global Vaccine Summit is so important,” he said.
President Trump announced on Friday that he intends to “terminate” the U.S. government’s relationship with WHO. “China has total control over the World Health Organization,” Trump said in remarks accusing the country of a wide range of offenses and threatening various kinds of reprisal. “We have detailed the reforms that it [WHO] must make and engage with them directly, but they have refused to act,” he charged, without specifying which reforms were requested and refused. The Trump administration has been particularly critical of WHO’s recommendations against travel and trade restrictions, which it says are ineffective at stopping outbreaks. The announcement came 11 days after Trump wrote to WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus that the organization had 30 days to make the reforms the White House says it has sought, and it left unanswered questions about the scope, process, and legality of what the president intended. Global health experts speculated the president might attempt to make his temporary freeze on U.S. funding for WHO permanent, stopping short of a full attempt to withdraw. They also pointed out that the U.S. has an outstanding balance of close to $100 million in assessed contributions to the organization, which it might have to settle before attempting to pull out. It’s also unclear whether the president could make such a decision without approval from the U.S. Congress.
International donors fell roughly $1 billion short of the United Nations’ $2.4 billion funding target to sustain humanitarian operations in Yemen this year as the country faces multiple crises. The $1.35 billion pledge was also less than donors have committed in recent years. “This is not the end. It is abundantly clear because of today’s outcome that it cannot be the end. The U.N. will not abandon the people of Yemen,” U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock said during the event. Yemen saw its first confirmed case of COVID-19 on April 10 and registered 314 confirmed cases in the last week. However, with a mortality rate in the country that exceeds 20% — much higher than the global average — many believe the virus is more widespread than what is reported. The country’s testing rates are among the lowest in the world. “There is every reason to believe that community transmission is already underway across the country,” said U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres. Due to funding gaps, Lowcock warned the U.N. could have to close 30 of its 41 major programs in the country over the next few weeks.
U.K. Correspondent William Worley contributed reporting.