WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Picture: REUTERS/FABRICE COFFRINI
WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Picture: REUTERS/FABRICE COFFRINI

Brussels — The World Health Organisation (WHO) is seeking $11.5bn in urgent funding to fight the more infectious Delta variant of the coronavirus, a draft report seen by Reuters shows, as wealthy nations are partly bypassing its Covid-19 programmes.

A large portion of the cash being requested from the WHO’s partners is needed to buy test kits, oxygen and face masks in poorer nations, says the document which is expected to be published this week. One-quarter of the funds would be used to buy hundreds of millions of vaccines.

The paper, which is still subject to changes, outlines the results and financial needs of the Access to Covid-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A), the programme co-led by the WHO to distribute Covid-19 vaccines, drugs and tests across the world fairly.

The programme, set up at the beginning of the pandemic, remains vastly underfunded, and its co-ordinators now acknowledge will remain so as many governments look to address global Covid needs “differently”, an ACT-A official told Reuters, who didn’t want to be identified.

As a result, it has cut its total request for funds by almost by $5bn, according to the document. But it still needs $16.8bn, almost as much as what has been raised so far, and $7.7bn is required urgently.

The document also calls for a further $3.8bn, on top of the $7.7bn, to take up options for 760-million doses of Covid-19 vaccines that would be delivered in 2022.

“These options to buy need to be exercised in the coming months or vaccine doses will be lost,” the document warns.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said last week that $7.7bn was required urgently, but didn’t give a breakdown of planned spending, and did not say how much extra money was needed for vaccines.

The WHO wasn’t immediately available to comment.

The latest cash crunch will underscore concerns about the future of the programme, which has struggled to secure supplies and equipment to tame a pandemic that has killed more than 4.2-million people.

The vaccine portion of the project, called Covax, is increasingly reliant on donations from wealthy nations, rather than its own supplies, after key manufacturer India restricted exports of shots to boost domestic vaccinations.

But the US, the EU and Japan have also donated vaccines directly to countries as part of their vaccine diplomacy drives. Japan has also said it's a quicker process than going through Covax.

Some countries have provided equipment directly to others too. Last month, Australia said it would donate oxygen-related equipment, antigen test-kits and vaccines to Indonesia.

The plea for cash comes as a review of the ACT-A is under way, with France, Germany and Canada among the countries steering the process. A report on the programme's results and shortcomings is expected in September by consultancy Dalberg Global Development Advisers, the ACT-A official said.

Oxygen needs

Among ACT-A’s immediate needs are $1.2bn for oxygen to treat seriously ill Covid-19 patients in poorer countries where supplies are low, the report says.

Oxygen has moved up the priority list given vaccines are not available, the ACT-A official said, highlighting the repercussions from the shortage of shots as the Delta variant spreads to 132 countries.

Covax has delivered about 180-million vaccines, far short of its 2-billion target by the end of 2021.

Oxygen is needed to “control the exponential death surges caused by the Delta variant”, the document says.

Global demand for medical oxygen is more than a dozen times greater than before the pandemic, the document says, but many countries are struggling to access sufficient supplies.

“Inequity in access to life-saving Covid-19 tools has never been more apparent,” the document says.

The urgent need for the most basic treatment against Covid-19 18 months into the pandemic shows how little has been done to combat the virus in most of the world, the ACT-A official said, adding: “There hasn't been much progress. What was urgent three months ago is still urgent now.”

In rich nations, most people have already been vaccinated, including the younger who are less at risk from the virus, whereas in poorer nations the most vulnerable are still waiting for a first dose and there is a lack of basic materials, such as face masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE).

“Avoidable death and unsustainable pressure on health systems is mounting in many countries due to insufficient access to oxygen and PPE,” the document says.

At least $1.7bn is need urgently to buy protective devices for healthcare workers in poorer nations, the document says, and another $2.4bn is needed to boost testing in low-income countries.

Reuters

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