World Economic Forum's Covid-19 platform gets support from 726 private sector members

The first-of-its-kind digital platform has coordinated at least two large-scale donations so far

Since the World Economic Forum rolled out a digital platform for the global business community to help address the deadly coronavirus pandemic two weeks ago, the number of private sector partners joining weekly calls, leading a project or lending a helping hand, has soared to 726.

The WEF Covid Action Platform has so far coordinated at least two large-scale donation efforts so far, according to the Swiss-based organisation

UK pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca will donate 9 million face masks to healthcare workers worldwide, with the first shipment going to hard-hit Italy. The company is also accelerating the development of its diagnostic testing to scale-up screening and supplement testing where needed. And the world’s biggest soap company, the UK’s Unilever, is coordinating the donation of sanitiser, soap, bleach and food worth €50 million (Dh201.3m) through the WEF platform.

"When everyone wants to help, how do you coordinate all that? There is a need for global collaboration because no one can do it alone, whether it's supply chains, creating a cure or sharing information," Murat Sonmez, a managing director at the WEF, told The National said. "There was a need for an international, informal and impact-oriented platform."

The global death toll from the novel coronavirus is nearing 28,000, with more than 600,000 confirmed cases, with about 132,000 recoveries, according to Johns Hopkins University which is tracking global data. Billions of people have been ordered or urged to stay in their homes, with India joining European states including Britain, France and Italy in imposing strict lockdowns.

“If you look at the geopolitical situation, between China, the US and the EU, the WEF is one of the few to have the trust of all of the governments and also has the global business community engaged,” Mr Sonmez said.

The platform, launched in partnership with the World Health Organisation, is conducting weekly calls with senior executives around the world and across sectors on what is needed to address the pandemic. On the agenda are business donations to the public health response and the status of development of vaccines, diagnostics and protective equipment, as well as tracking the economic impact of the virus and pursuing collaboration to address disruptions.

“It’s going to take action from everyone in society to overcome this challenge,” Alan Jope, the chief executive of Unilever, said.

Another area where the WEF aims to be helpful is in developing regulation to expedite the response to Covid-19, Mr Sonmez noted.

Getting governments, the private sector and NGOs at the same table to respond to the Ebola crisis of 2014, among other public health challenges, provide a blueprint.

One example is the adoption of drones for public health management in Rwanda. As social distancing has proved to be the single best option to contain Covid-19 before a vaccine becomes widely available. Drones have already been deployed by countries including China, the US to the UAE to tackle to situation.

“In the absence of physical contact, how do you coordinate delivery of medical supplies on demand?” Mr Sonmez said, adding the answer is already out there.

The WEF, two years ago, worked with the Rwanda government to regulate drones as a way of addressing high mortality rates in childbirth.

DJI, one of China’s largest drone manufacturers, is a WEF partner and has helped in informing regulators about the capabilities drones actually have and what they can be used for.

“The engagement of the business community is essential because they are providing the technology,” Mr Sonmez said.

San Francisco drone start-up Zipline brought its technology and hardware to Rwanda. Blood stored in a central location was delivered to the patients in need by zipline drones. The programme achieved a zero loss rate in blood distribution, access to blood quadrupled in the targetted communities and the response time was reduced from 4 hours to 28 minutes. Today, Rwanda has the largest delivery drone network in the world and some of the most rigorous laws to oversee their operations.

Twelve African countries and India are considering adopting Rwanda’s regulatory framework, but more may come onboard as the public health response to Covid-19 evolves.

According to Mr Sonmez, these kinds of collaborations are a reason to take heart. “Humanity will survive and we will learn from this.”