More than 40 countries pledge billions for Covid-19 vaccine hunt

King Abdullah of Jordan demands 'equitable' access to treatments for all

FILE PHOTO: The President of European Commission Ursula von der Leyen holds a news conference on the European Union response to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) crisis at the EU headquarters in Brussels, April 15, 2020.  John Thys/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
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A global pledging conference for a vaccine for Covid-19, hosted by European leaders on Monday, almost met its target of raising €7.5 billion to discover, produce and distribute the treatment.

The deaths of more than 250,000 people around the world, with more than 140,000 in Europe, has led to a frantic search for a breakthrough to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Ursula von der Leyen, head of the European Commission and the host of the online donor conference, said a vaccine was the best chance of beating the outbreak.

"I believe May 4 will mark a turning point in our fight against coronavirus because today the world is coming together," Ms von der Leyen said.

The conference, organised by countries in the EU, Britain, Norway, Japan, Canada and Saudi Arabia, gathered €7.4 billion (Dh29.62bn/US$8.07bn) in pledges to build on efforts by the World Bank, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and wealthy donors.

Six countries and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation also announced separate financial pledges to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance in what its chair, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, described as "a massive vote of confidence". Gavi needs to raise a similar figure of about €7 billion for its work in the pandemic and to protect 300 million children in lower income countries against other deadly diseases until 2025. Its replenishment fund will conclude at the Global Vaccine Summit hosted by the UK government on June 4.

The UAE Minister of State for International Co-operation, Reem Al Hashimy, said at yesterday’s event that the Emirates would persevere tirelessly in the battle against pandemic.

“The UAE is already an urgent, dedicated and responsible actor in the fight against Covid-19 and will continue to work tirelessly at the forefront of the global response to this malicious and relentless threat," Ms Al Hashimy said.

"We have airlifted more than 472 tonnes of medical aid, personal protective equipment and supplies to 43 countries around the world.

"And our World Health Organisation hub in Dubai’s International Humanitarian City has processed more than 132 shipments and acted as the primary distribution point of PPE for the organisation.

"Thus far, $110 million has been allocated and dispatched."

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said: "We will not be safe until we are able to share [a cure] with the world."

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has recovered from his own fight with Covid-19, said the world needed to throw an "impregnable shield" around all people.

In a recorded video, he showed lingering effects of the disease.

"When we do find a vaccine, it’s vital that we are able to distribute it to everyone who needs it," Mr Johnson said.

"We're in this together and together we will defeat this virus."

Saudi Arabian Health Minister, Tawfiq Al Rabiah, addressed the meeting on behalf of the G20 forum of nations, of which his country holds the rotating presidency.

Mr Al Rabiah called on participants to close the funding gap.

"We must keep in mind the importance of safeguarding everyone's health globally," he said.

"Our primary responsibility is to make sure people are protected from this disease and to eliminate it."

King Abdullah II of Jordan told the meeting that the past months showed we all need each other to survive.

"In my region, failure is not an option," King Abdullah said. "Those who are most vulnerable in such difficult times are refugees and displaced communities."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel promised her country would back solutions that would make treatments available for “all people on Earth”.

Some of the hardest-hit European countries, including Italy and Spain, committed hundreds of millions of euros for the initiative.

“Common action is a must,” Mrs Merkel said. “Only joint, international, multilateral action will allow us to overcome the pandemic.”

There was no official US representation at the forum.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged for Japan.

China, where the outbreak originated late last year, was represented by its ambassador to the EU.

About 40 countries, along with UN, philanthropic bodies and research institutes were expected to make donations.

Melinda Gates of the Gates Foundation made a $100m pledge when she addressed the event.

US President Donald Trump last month declared that Washington would stop funding for the WHO.

Mr Trump criticised the agency for not holding China to account over its handling of the pandemic.

Two senior State Department officials on Monday declined to answer questions about the US absence from the pledging event.

The officials were asked six times but gave no answer. Instead, they promoted US efforts in trying to develop a vaccine and direct humanitarian efforts.

European officials were disappointed by the failure to engage the US with the call for funds.

"The EU responded favourably to a call for global action," an official said. "The US refused. They are the ones who are isolating themselves.

"But we are working very closely with very powerful American entities like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has huge financial resources and great influence.

"We're only at the start of the process. We hope the American government will join the common effort."