WORLD BANK RATIFIES HISTORIC GLOBAL PANDEMIC FUND
But R2H/Biden breakthrough threatened by the exclusion of poor countries and neglect of spillover prevention.
June 30, 2022
Press Contact:
Alicia Stromberg | 763-258-4803 | alicia.stromberg@r2haction.org
Paul Davis | 202-817-0129 | paul.davis@r2haction.org

[Washington, DC] Today the World Bank ratified a historic new global financing mechanism to prevent and prepare for pandemics. Right to Health Action, the nation’s largest grassroots COVID group, has fought for this since the start of the pandemic. The group strongly and commends the Biden administration for pushing a “global fund to pandemic-proof the planet" near to the finish line, with vital support from Indonesia's President Joko Widow, current G20 Chair.

However, the group also criticizes the World Bank’s stark exclusion of low- and middle- income countries, as well as front-line civil society organizations. In addition, they condemn the Bank’s potentially exclusive focus on containing the spread of diseases, after an outbreak has already happened, and neglect of additional action to prevent outbreaks from happening in the first place.  R2H Action's recommendations to the World Bank can be found here

“The Biden Administration is poised to deliver a historic win for the country and the world,” said Akshita Siddula, Right to Health Action’s co-founder and Managing Director. “R2H Action has been demanding a global fund to stop pandemics since the earliest weeks of lockdown, and we are excited about a new day dawning. But neither we nor Joe Biden can take a victory lap when success is jeopardized by the World Bank’s proposal to literally exclude the most important voices, and leave out some of the most important work,” said Siddula.

“An enduring breakthrough like this is incredibly important, and these moments don’t come often,” said R2H Action Policy Director Paul Davis. “We need the White House to make sure that uninterrogated bias on the part of the World Bank and the global health establishment does not set up this initiative to fail. An exclusive focus on stopping the spread, rather than stopping the outbreaks, accepts that ‘poor people just die’, and is as offensive as the earlier ‘expert consensus’ that AIDS treatment was simply impossible in Africa,” said Davis, who was involved in successful efforts 20 years ago to launch U.S. global AIDS programs. “We must fund comprehensive community plans to prevent outbreaks, rather than only responding when it’s too late,” said Davis.

Activists decry the Bank’s assertion that ‘conflict of interest’ justifies excluding the same countries and communities who will shoulder primary responsibility at the front lines of zoonotic spillover. R2H Action also notes that the World Bank is proposing to set itself up as account holder, administrator and implementer in a leaked copy of a note to its Board. Nowhere in its board memo, or a roundly criticized white paper circulated in late May, does the Bank propose that the new fund actually give money directly to countries or communities most affected.

“The White House has led this effort and should be proud. But the Bank is potentially setting up the new pandemic fund for expensive, deadly failure,” said Pranav Savanur, Right to Health Action Policy Co-chair and Senior Fellow. “A strategy that merely contains outbreaks, rather than preventing them, is like building a wall around developing countries to keep new diseases from inconveniencing wealthier nations. By only responding to outbreaks, we are content to merely send buckets of water to a burning building, to keep the flames away from the gated community next door.”

“Until we put out the match by getting serious about stopping zoonotic spillover, the new fund cannot succeed,” said Mr. Savanur.

Right to Health Action believes that pandemics are not inevitable, and are the product of policies. Fortunately, policies can be changed. 

Pandemics emerge from uncontrolled disease outbreaks, caused overwhelmingly when a pathogen “spills over” from wildlife to humans. Spillover events are accelerating and intensifying as tropical forests are destroyed to extract profitable raw materials, often displacing Indigenous people from ancestral lands in the process.

In summary:

  • The fund should serve as a pooled funding pot to which countries and civil society apply, in most cases, jointly.

  • Funds should be provided to implement comprehensive national country pandemic prevention plans. 

  • Money is primarily directed towards local community groups and the public-sector, rather than multilateral agencies or development banks. 

  • Pandemic Fund should include an equal number of donor countries and low/middle income ‘implementing countries’, with additional protected seats for civil society representing NGOs from the Global North and Global South, as well as board seats for Indigenous people and stigmatized populations.

  • Inclusive board seats should be in place from the beginning, in the design stage, rather than as ‘observers or advisors, brought in after the parameters and scope of work is already set in stone.

  • The fund should invest in and bring to scale proven pandemic prevention models that have demonstrated steep reductions in spillover risk and enormous payoffs in community health, poverty alleviation, and carbon conservation simply from providing jobs and healthcare for communities in tropical forests.

  • The fund should also provide support for regulation and incentives for commercial wildlife trade and markets, as well as protection of tropical forests in the top 500 zoonotic spillover hotspots, adopting measures Brazil used to reduce deforestation (and roughly commensurate risk of spillover) by 70%.

 

“We are grateful that Joe Biden listened, and his Administration should be very proud to have gotten a landmark initiative this close to launching,” said Akshita Siddula. “But there are some flaws in the foundation that mean the whole structure could collapse. We urge the White House to intervene now to course correct the World Bank before it’s too late.”

Editor's note: Right to Health Action is a 50-state grassroots movement of 150,000 people impacted by COVID, fighting to end the current pandemic, and leverage this moment for the changes we need to stop the pandemics of the future. 

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