BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Leaders of G20 nations are to commit for the first time to fully fund a World Health Organization scheme to distribute COVID-19 vaccines and drugs to poorer nations, the draft conclusions of a summit show, in a move that would unblock nearly $20 billion.
The document, subject to changes before a global health summit to be held in Rome on May 21, also says that leaders of the world’s 20 largest economies are committed to urgent action this year to boost manufacturing capacity for anti-COVID technologies, but omits mention of vaccine patent waivers.
According to the draft, leaders will for the first time express an explicit commitment “to fair and full financing of the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A) strategy”, which is the WHO’s scheme to make COVID-19 vaccines, drugs and tests available to everybody in the world.
The scheme was launched in April 2020 and is still vastly underfunded. Of the over $34 billion it has been seeking to develop, procure and distribute anti-COVID vaccine and drugs across the world it is still missing $19 billion.
In previous statements, G20 leaders said they would address global financing needs but refrained from making any firm financial commitment. On Wednesday, foreign affairs ministers of the G7 group of the most industrialised nations, which are all members of the G20, reiterated their will to give financial support to the scheme but stopped short of saying they would fully meet its financial needs.
The draft is to be discussed at a meeting on Thursday of diplomats and experts preparing the G20 summit.
G20 leaders also commit in the draft “to global sharing of surplus vaccine doses”, but the document does not clarify whether excess vaccines bought by wealthy nations would be shared through the WHO scheme for vaccines, known as COVAX, or through bilateral deals or regional mechanisms such as one set up by the European Union, which critics say may hamper COVAX’s efforts for a fair distribution of shots.
The four-page draft document is still missing parts on some controversial issues, including on “bottlenecks and barriers to equitable access” for which paragraphs have been reserved in the communique but with no draft conclusions yet.
Vaccine patent waivers are considered a way of allowing equitable access, but there is no mention of that possible measure in the draft statement at the moment.
On Wednesday, U.S. President Joe Biden, in a dramatic turnaround from traditional U.S. policy, said he would back waivers of intellectual rights in a bid to boost global production of vaccines. The statement drove down share prices of pharmaceutical companies.
The European Union has repeatedly opposed such a waiver, saying it would not address production problems which it deems are mostly caused by shortages of raw materials. However, EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said on Thursday she would be open to discuss the U.S. proposal.
The draft statement says G20 leaders want to boost global and regional manufacturing capacity and will support efforts “further enabling access to health technologies”. In November the G20 said it would only support “voluntary licensing” of vaccine intellectual property.
The draft statement also says that G20 leaders support a “fully funded, independent and effective WHO”.
The U.N. agency during the COVID-19 pandemic has been criticised for lack of effectiveness as it is forced to rely excessively on member countries’ funding. Its efforts to assess the origin of the outbreak in China and send rapid global warnings have also been questioned.
The draft says the G20, which includes China, commits to “ensure transparency and international cooperation for WHO-led teams’ access to sites of potential and actual outbreak origin”.
The G20 also plans new measures this year to set up early warning and alert systems for threat detection “with clear triggers for swift global response”, the draft document says.
Reporting by Francesco Guarascio @fraguarascio; Editing by Nick Macfie
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