MANILA — The World Health Organization announced a new fund Friday that would help the United Nations agency support at-risk and vulnerable countries, especially those with weak health systems, to prepare and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The fund, called the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund, will be hosted by the U.N. Foundation and the Swiss Philanthropy Foundation. Various stakeholders — such as philanthropists, companies, and individual donors — can contribute to the fund. Donations can be tax-deductible, including those from several European countries.
“There is a huge issue, and ... almost market failure, in certain critical supply items for the response.”— Scott Pendergast, director of strategic planning and partnerships, WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme
According to a news release, it already has major support from Facebook and Google. Both companies have included a matching scheme for money raised through their platforms.
Donations through the fund will help WHO sustain its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which as of March 12 had spread to 117 countries and territories, with 125,048 confirmed cases and 4,613 deaths.
WHO’s initial estimate of resource requirements for preparedness and response efforts from February to April 2020 was over $675 million. But funding requirements are increasing dramatically as the outbreak evolves.
“At the moment, estimates would be in the range of, for the public health response, tenfold over of what we’ve initially seen in the first three months,” said Scott Pendergast, director of strategic planning and partnerships for WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme.
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While financial institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have recently announced billions of dollars in funding to be made available in response to the outbreak, Pendergast said there will likely be gaps in funding that crowdsourced donations such as those made through the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund can help fill in.
“We also need to mention the cost around mitigating the social and economic consequences, and what we expect to see as they become clearer is institutions such as World Bank and the IMF coming through with additional packages outside the public health response,” he said.
New fund vs. CFE
In January, WHO disbursed more than $10 million from its Contingency Fund for Emergencies to scale up regional and country preparations against COVID-19. The money was also used to purchase critical health supplies, such as personal protective equipment, which now, as WHO anticipated, are coming in short supply.
But as the COVID-19 outbreak continues, Pendergast said they needed a funding stream that can sustain the response for the longer term.
“The contingency fund isn’t designed to sustain a major response such as this,” he said. “We use the CFE to get out of the door very quickly within less than 24 hours, and it’s really just for the initial phase of the response before other funding streams come online.”
The COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund can be used to purchase critical supplies such as COVID-19 test kits, which many countries are coming up short. In the Philippines, efforts are being made to fast-track the use of a testing kit developed by scientists at the University of the Philippines National Institutes of Health.
Export bans pose an increasing challenge in the purchase of critical supplies, but the WHO official said the organization is working together with the heads of IMF, World Bank, and the U.N. secretary-general in engaging at the highest political levels with countries to make the case for global solidarity, arguing they have the obligation to help countries with the highest needs.
“There is a huge issue, and I would say almost market failure, in certain critical supply items for the response. And WHO has been vocal in highlighting this growing concern that we have,” he said.