New UK aid chief, an 'encouraging' HIV vaccine trial, and $300M for Ebola response: This week in development

Alok Sharma, newly appointed U.K. secretary of state for international development. Photo by: REUTERS / Henry Nicholls

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson appoints a new development secretary, Janssen Pharmaceutica reports promising HIV vaccine trial results, and the World Bank announces $300 million for Ebola response. This week in development:

The United Kingdom gained a new prime minister, bid farewell to one development secretary, and saw the appointment of another within 48 hours. Boris Johnson was announced as the U.K.’s new leader on Tuesday, and on Wednesday he appointed Alok Sharma as the new secretary of state for international development. Rory Stewart — who served as international development secretary for less than three months — announced his resignation immediately following Boris’ win. Many in the development sector saw Stewart as one the best-qualified leaders the department has ever had and consider his departure a loss. But amid speculation that under aid skeptic Johnson, DFID might lose its secretary of state and be asked to report to the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Sharma’s appointment has been met with a general sense of relief. Now, the development community is calling on Sharma, previously minister of state for employment at the Department of Work & Pensions, to defend an independent DFID. Little is known about his views on aid, although he released a statement Wednesday, saying “we will work across the whole of government to deliver Brexit and make sure U.K. aid is tackling global challenges that affect us all, such as climate change, disease and humanitarian disasters.”

The 10th International AIDS Society Conference on HIV Science just wrapped in Mexico City, where Janssen Pharmaceutica shared new plans for an HIV vaccine candidate. The company revealed results from its ASCENT trial, which made use of the organization’s “mosaic” HIV vaccine, which combines immunogens created using genes from different subtypes of HIV-1, the most common HIV type. The trial’s “encouraging” results have helped support the launch of phase 3, a larger efficacy trial of the vaccine to be conducted in North America, South America, and Europe later this year. The conference also saw the launch of a new report that provides first-time analysis of HIV response success across six diverse settings: Thailand; Malawi; Rakai, Uganda; New South Wales, Australia; London, England; and San Francisco, United States. The report provides policy decisions that drove advances against the epidemic and maps out the future, showing how structural and research advances can propel progress. “This report highlights the reality that progress toward ending HIV shouldn’t be limited by geography or demographics,” Greg Millett, vice president and director of public policy at amfAR, said in a release.

The World Bank announced on Wednesday $300 million in grants and credits to scale support for the global response to the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Ebola epidemic. The amount is approximately half of the anticipated financing needs of the Fourth Strategic Response Plan, expected to be finalized in the coming week, according to a release. The financing package will enable the government and other responders to step up frontline health response, deliver cash-for-work programs, and strengthen resilience in affected communities, according to the bank. The European Union, meanwhile, is set to allocate a further €30 million ($33.4 million) to the Ebola crisis as donors come under pressure to up their commitments. But when U.S. Senators asked if more money would help fight the epidemic, which has been made complex due to the instability of the region where the outbreak is located, Tibor Nagy, assistant secretary of state for African affairs, didn’t offer a straightforward “yes” during a hearing in Washington on Wednesday: “I wish money could help in this regard, but I think more than anything else time will help,” he said, adding that DRC President Félix Tshisekedi needs time to undo damage done by his predecessors.

U.S. President Donald Trump and congressional leaders struck a budget deal this week to raise the debt ceiling and increase spending for the next two fiscal years. While it’s early in the process to know exactly how the deal will impact foreign aid funding, development experts told Devex that it should reduce budget insecurity and lead to a more timely appropriations process. The deal includes increases for both defense and nondefense discretionary spending — which includes the foreign aid budget — but how exactly those funds will be allocated remains to be seen. The increases are lower than the totals in the budget bills the House has passed, but George Ingram, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, told Devex that he expects the foreign aid budget, will at a minimum, come in at the fiscal year 2019 level, and may see a slight increase.

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    Kelli Rogers

    Kelli Rogers is an Associate Editor for Devex. Based on the U.S. West Coast, she works with Devex's team of correspondents and editors around the world, with a particular focus on gender. She previously worked as Devex’s Southeast Asia correspondent based in Bangkok, covering disaster and crisis response, resilience, women’s rights, and climate change throughout the region. Prior to that, she reported on social and environmental issues from Nairobi, Kenya. Kelli holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri, and has since reported from more than 20 countries.