5 big ideas for the White House COVID Global Summit

Evan Vucci

by

KAMALA THIAGARAJAN

5.11.22 5:18 p.m.

What should the world do to help countries recover from the pandemic?

We have called on global health experts to intervene as governments and members of the public and private sectors gather on May 12 for the Second Global COVID-19 Summit, a virtual event hosted by the White House. The event will be broadcast live to the public at 9 a.m. ET.

The goal of the summit is to find ways to vaccinate the world – only about 16% of people in low-income countries received at least one dose — protect the most vulnerable from COVID and prepare for the next pandemic.

Here are five ideas that may or may not come up at the big conference — but which the experts we spoke to think are key.

Put African countries in the driving seat

Oyeronke OyebanjiAspen New Voices Fellow from Nigeria and Vaccine Research and Development Strategy Coordinator at the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations

Thanks to high vaccination coverage, access to new antivirals and, in some cases, low hospitalization rates, many high-income countries have completely lifted their health and social measures related to COVID-19, such as the use of masks and mandatory travel testing. Unfortunately, many African countries continue to face the challenges faced in the early stages of the pandemic – limited access to personal protective equipment for healthcare workers, diagnostics and therapeutics. Although vaccines are now available, the capacity to distribute and deliver these vaccines remains limited.

Over the coming months, African countries need to be prioritized and supported urgently to address these challenges. The continued risk of variants emerging and spreading makes this even more urgent. The inequity that still exists is simply unacceptable.

The real solutions to Africa’s challenges lie in capacity development within the region, led by Africans and supported by the world.

Pay all health workers – and invest in “test and treat” programs

FIFA Rahmana civil society representative from the World Health Organization’s Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator program based in the UK

There are health workers in Africa who don’t have a medical background but really know how to reach their peers in their communities and how to roll out health services. Unfortunately, their payments are not stable. In reality, according to a 2020 study from the Center for Global Development, only 14% of the 916,000 active community health workers in Africa are salaried, while the remaining CHWs are volunteers with some or no remuneration.

They are doing such important work in the pandemic. They reach out to the elderly and bring them to vaccination centers. They are rolling out rapid antigen tests and getting people tested in communities. And they do other work on diseases such as HIV, tuberculosis and malaria.

It is essential that these workers receive regular wages and are fully and meaningfully engaged in their national COVID responses. Many on the international stage are concerned about low immunization coverage, but are unwilling to invest in community health systems.

Moreover, many countries remain poorly vaccinated – some have not even fully vaccinated 5% of their population, [such as Madagascar, Papua New Guinea and Yemen]. To help protect unvaccinated people in these countries, world leaders should focus on investing in “test and treat” programs, which allow people to test themselves at home or at their local healthcare facility. and allow them to access new treatments, like Paxlovid [a drug that can help patients recover from mild to moderate cases of COVID].

Giving foreign aid a makeover

Rodrigo Bazua LobatoAspen New Voices Fellow from Mexico and PhD student at Harvard Chan School of Public Health.

The second COVID-19 summit comes at a crucial time when most of the world is returning to the status quo. What shouldn’t go back to the status quo is how foreign aid works.

Currently, donors such as USAID, The Global Fund, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation [a funder of NPR and this blog] providing assistance to countries in an uncoordinated manner. Each of the donors have their own priorities for countries that desperately need these funds – but these countries often have different priorities.

In addition, aid agencies often hire consultants and import equipment and goods from their own country. [for their aid programs]ignoring the capacity already present in the beneficiary countries.

If the United States and high-income countries want to help low- and middle-income countries increase their capacity to respond effectively to COVID-19 outbreaks and other public health threats, they must stop funding their domestic aid industries and give those funds locally instead [aid organizations and] experts.

Do more than provide vaccines

Nina SchwalbeAdjunct Assistant Professor of Population and Family Health, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health

The United States has purchased more than a billion doses of vaccines for COVAX, the global vaccine sharing program. Although this is a generous contribution, it is not enough. Vaccination requires vaccines and delivery. To ensure that this contribution is not wasted, the United States must also support last-mile delivery so that we can get vaccines to the people who need them. It’s a bit like giving people a car without providing gasoline. The car cannot drive.

Kamala Thiagarajan is a freelance journalist based in Madurai, southern India. She reports on global health, science and development, and her work has been published in the New York Times, the British medical journalBBC, The Guardian and other outlets. You can find her on twitter @kamal_t

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