The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Swiss Confederation today signed a Memorandum of Understanding to launch the first WHO BioHub Facility as part of the WHO BioHub System, which was announced in November 2020. This facility will enhance the rapid sharing of viruses and other pathogens between laboratories and partners globally.
Based in Spiez, Switzerland, the facility will serve as a centre for the safe receipt, sequencing, storage and preparation of biological materials for distribution to other laboratories, in order to inform risk assessments, and sustain global preparedness against these pathogens.
“Close international collaboration to ensure the timely sharing of epidemiological and clinical data as well as biological materials is of utmost importance. Switzerland supports the WHO BioHub initiative in its initial phase by providing the necessary infrastructure of a Swiss biosafety laboratory in Spiez. With this, we hope to contribute to the establishment of an international exchange system for SARS-CoV-2 and other emerging pathogens,” said Swiss Federal Councillor Alain Berset.
Currently, most pathogen sharing is done bilaterally between countries and on an ad hoc basis, which can be slow, and leave some countries without access to the benefits and tools. The BioHub will enable Member States to share biological materials with and via the BioHub under pre-agreed conditions, including biosafety, biosecurity, and other applicable regulations. This will ensure timeliness and predictability in response activities.
“The COVID-19 pandemic and other outbreaks and epidemics have underscored the importance of rapidly sharing pathogens to help the global scientific community assess the risk and develop countermeasures such as diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “The BioHub System is an important step towards facilitating this flow of information. We thank the Swiss Government for its support in establishing the first BioHub Facility.”
In parallel, WHO will broaden its BioHub System for the use of biological materials by qualified entities – such as manufacturers – for the development of medical by-products for fair allocation to countries. WHO is currently running a pilot phase, using SARS-COV-2 and its variants, to test the feasibility and operational arrangements for sharing such materials with the facilities of the BioHub System.
Following results from the pilot project, the BioHub will expand from SARS-COV-2 and its variants, to other pathogens, and connect partners with other repositories and laboratory networks in 2022.
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G20 leaders boost support of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator but urgent and immediate action is needed to maintain momentum
World leaders today met at the Global Health Summit, co-hosted by the European Commission and Italy as part of its G20 presidency, to adopt an agenda to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic, and develop and endorse a Rome Declaration of principles, at a time when the virus is surging and spreading uncontrollably in many parts of the world.
With nine people losing their lives to COVID-19 every minute, and as the risk of even more transmissible and dangerous variants increases, the Global Health Summit comes at a critical juncture. The future of the pandemic is in the hands of the G20 leaders.
The ACT-Accelerator was launched just over a year ago in response to the G20’s call for a global mechanism to accelerate the development of tests, treatments and vaccines and to ensure their equitable distribution. Hosted by the World Health Organization, the ACT-Accelerator offers the only end-to-end multilateral solution to speeding up an end to the acute phase of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The ACT-Accelerator welcomes the commitments made at the Global Health Summit and will work with countries to operationalize rapidly these pledges, both financial and – crucially – for over 100 million doses of scarce vaccine. Current financial commitments are reflected in the ACT-Accelerator interactive funding tracker. However, a significant funding gap remains.
Speeding up an end to the pandemic through the ACT-Accelerator would cost less than 1% of what governments are spending on stimulus packages to treat the consequences of the pandemic. As the economic and social costs of the pandemic continue to escalate, the case for global solidarity, grows even stronger. The world now needs the G20 to ACT.
The Rome Declaration, released at the end of the Summit, reaffirmed leaders’ support for the ACT-Accelerator and underlined the necessity to share the financial burden and close the funding gap, in order for the ACT Accelerator to fulfil its mandate for the equitable allocation and delivery of tests, treatments and vaccines to defeat the pandemic. Of vital importance, the group also emphasized its support for global sharing of vaccine doses approved for emergency use by the World Health Organization (WHO) and through COVAX.
Carl Bildt, Special Envoy for the ACT-Accelerator and former Prime Minister of Sweden, said: “Today’s commitments are welcome – but more action is needed now, not in weeks or months, to change the course of the pandemic. While some countries have moved beyond just words, by donating vaccines and pledging to fully finance the ACT-Accelerator, further action is needed from G20 and G7 leaders if we are to stop this virus from spreading and mutating further. We all have substantial work ahead of us.”
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of WHO, said: “We now have an opportunity to fix the global imbalance. First, we need to close the 18.5 billion US dollar funding gap for the ACT Accelerator. Second, we need countries to donate tens of millions of doses of vaccines immediately through COVAX – which is the agreed global mechanism for distributing vaccines. We welcome the generous announcements made today; in the coming weeks and months, we will need hundreds of millions more doses. We need companies to help make donations happen fast, and to give COVAX the first right of refusal on all uncommitted doses now, in 2021. Third, we must urgently and dramatically scale up production of all of these tools, through voluntary licensing, sharing technology and know-how, and waiving intellectual property rights. We are at a critical juncture. The creation of the ACT Accelerator represents a historic, forward-thinking effort based on the principles of solidarity and equity. Let’s seize the moment and finish the job we started.”
- Today’s commitments come at a critical point in the pandemic. Only through concerted and rigorous testing to control virus spread, access to life-saving oxygen and dexamethasone to save lives, and vaccines to protect people – can bring this pandemic under control. A massive disparity in access to tests, treatments and vaccines between the world’s richest and poorest countries is prolonging the pandemic in all parts of the world. Funding the work of the ACT-Accelerator now would speed up an end to the pandemic everywhere.
- Testing rates in high-income countries are 100x the rates in low-income countries, contributing to unmonitored and uncontrolled spread of the virus. Fully funding the work of the ACT-A Diagnostics Pillar would significantly increase testing in low- and middle-income countries and build sequencing capacity to ensure newly emerging virus variants can be quickly identified and managed.
- High-income countries have administered nearly 100x more vaccine doses per inhabitant than low-income countries, leaving millions of healthcare workers and vulnerable populations unprotected in the world’s poorest countries. Fully funding the Gavi COVAX Advance Market Commitment (AMC) and sharing vaccines through ACT-A’s COVAX Facility would protect 27% of the populations in the AMC92 countries by the end of 2021.
- The drastic undersupply of oxygen is risking millions of lives across the world. Fully funding the work of the ACT-A Therapeutics Pillar would save up to 4 million lives with the delivery of life-saving oxygen to those that need it most, and fund research into new treatments to fight the disease.
- Health systems are in many countries unprepared for the roll out of COVID-19 tools, and health workers in low- and middle-income countries are frequently unprotected due to lack of PPE. Fully funding the Health Systems Connector would protect 2 million healthcare workers on the frontlines in LICs with supplies of PPE and help prepare health systems for the roll out of tools to fight COVID-19.
Global solidarity against COVID-19 isn’t just the right thing to do. It’s the fastest and most effective way to defeat the pandemic and get all our lives and economies back to normal.
Notes to Editors
The Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator is the proven, up-and-running global collaboration to accelerate the development, production, and equitable access to COVID-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines. It was set up in response to a call from G20 leaders in March and launched by the WHO, European Commission, France and The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in April 2020.
The ACT-Accelerator is not a decision-making body or a new organization but works to speed up collaborative efforts among existing organizations to end the pandemic. It is a framework for collaboration that has been designed to bring key players around the table with the goal of ending the pandemic as quickly as possible through the accelerated development, equitable allocation, and scaled up delivery of tests, treatments and vaccines, thereby protecting health systems and restoring societies and economies in the near term. It draws on the experience of leading global health organizations which are tackling the world’s toughest health challenges, and who, by working together, are able to unlock new and more ambitious results against COVID-19. Its members share a commitment to ensure all people have access to all the tools needed to defeat COVID-19 and to work with unprecedented levels of partnership to achieve it.
The ACT-Accelerator comprises four pillars: diagnostics, therapeutics, vaccines and health system strengthening.
- The diagnostics pillar, co-convened by the Global Fund and FIND, is focused on ensuring equitable access to new and existing tests, supporting country uptake and deployment and strengthening the diagnostic portfolio with R&D investments in low-cost, easy-to-use and quality tests. In 2021, it is focused on procuring and distributing at least 900 million molecular and antigen rapid tests to low- and middle-income countries.
- The therapeutics pillar is led by Unitaid and Wellcome. Therapeutics can play a role in all stages of COVID-19 disease: to prevent infection; suppress symptoms and spread of infection to others; treat or prevent symptoms; as a life-saving treatment for severe symptoms; and as a treatment that can speed up recovery. The aim in the next 12 months is to develop, manufacture and distribute millions of treatment doses, helping COVID-19 sufferers to recover from the disease.
- The vaccines pillar, convened by CEPI, Gavi and WHO, is speeding up the search for an effective vaccine for all countries. At the same time, it is supporting the building of manufacturing capabilities, and buying supply, ahead of time so that at least 2 billion doses can be fairly distributed to the most high risk and highly exposed populations globally by the end of 2021.
- The health systems connector pillar, led by the World Bank, the Global Fund and WHO, is working to ensure that these tools can reach the people who need them.
- Cross-cutting all of these is the workstream on Access & Allocation, led by WHO.
Since April 2020, the ACT-Accelerator has supported the fastest, most coordinated, and successful global effort in history to develop and rollout tools to fight a new disease. With significant advances in research and development by academia, private sector and government initiatives, the ACT-Accelerator has advanced our understanding of what works to fight the disease. It has transformed our ability to tackle COVID-19 on a global scale: vaccines are being rolled-out worldwide, low-cost high-performing antigen rapid diagnostic tests can now detect transmission anywhere, affordable therapies for severe disease can save lives in any setting, and health systems are being strengthened to help roll out these tools.
International organizations have come together to launch a new One Health High-Level Expert Panel to improve understanding of how diseases with the potential to trigger pandemics, emerge and spread.
The panel will advise four international organizations - the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO); the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE); the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP); and the World Health Organization (WHO) - on the development of a long-term global plan of action to avert outbreaks of diseases like H5N1 avian influenza; MERS; Ebola; Zika, and, possibly, COVID-19. Three quarters of all emerging infectious diseases originate in animals.
It will operate under the One Health Approach, which recognizes the links between the health of people, animals, and the environment and highlights the need for specialists in multiple sectors to address any health threats and prevent disruption to agri-food systems.
Key first steps will include systematic analyses of scientific knowledge about the factors that lead to transmission of a disease from animal to human and vice versa; development of risk assessment and surveillance frameworks; identification of capacity gaps as well as agreement on good practices to prevent and prepare for zoonotic outbreaks.
The panel will consider the impact of human activity on the environment and wildlife habitats. Critical areas will include food production and distribution; urbanization and infrastructure development; international travel and trade; activities that lead to biodiversity loss and climate change; and those that put increased pressure on the natural resource base - all of which can lead to the emergence of zoonotic diseases.
The panel will guide development of a dynamic new research agenda and draw up evidence-based recommendations for global, regional, national and local action.
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General said: “Human health does not exist in a vacuum, and nor can our efforts to protect and promote it. The close links between human, animal and environmental health demand close collaboration, communication and coordination between the relevant sectors. The High-Level Expert Panel is a much-needed initiative to transform One Health from a concept to concrete policies that safeguard the health of the world’s people.”
Dr QU Dongyu, FAO Director General, told the panel: "This panel will contribute to advancing the One Health agenda, by helping to better understand the root causes of disease emergence and spread, and informing decision-makers to prevent long-term public health risks. I encourage it to be a shining example of silo-breaking, systems thinking and open dialogue. Expectations for collective action and the need for effective collaboration have never been higher.”
Dr Monique Éloit, Director General of the World Organisation for Animal Health noted: “The COVID-19 pandemic is a stark reminder that collaboration across sectors is absolutely critical for global health. The newly established One Health High-Level Expert Panel will contribute to bringing together diverse scientific expertise. United, we will better anticipate global health threats and work to control risks at the animal source. Our Organisation is proud to provide high-level expertise, along with our partners, to develop science-based ‘One Health’ strategies and programmes.
Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP observed: "To end the triple planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution that threaten our peace and prosperity, we have to understand that human, animal and planetary health go hand in hand. We must do more to promote transformative actions that target the root causes of nature’s destruction. The One Health High-Level Expert Panel is an important step in recognizing the complex, multidisciplinary issues at the interface of human, animal, and environmental health.
The Ministers for Foreign Affairs of France and Germany also joined the public launch of the One Health High-Level Expert Panel:
Mr Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, France commented: "The COVID-19 pandemic, whose zoonotic origin is strongly suspected, underlines how closely human, animal and environmental health are linked. It demonstrates the importance of the ‘One Health’ approach. It is in this context that France, together with Germany, proposed the creation of such a Panel at the meeting of the Alliance for Multilateralism organized on the occasion of the Paris Peace Forum on 12 November 2020."Mr Heiko Maas, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Germany, said: “COVID-19 has painfully reminded us that the health of humans, animals and the environment around the world is closely connected: Nobody is safe until everybody is safe. This is what we have to bear in mind to prevent future pandemics. The establishment of the One Health High-Level Expert Panel thus marks an important step in the right direction. Germany and France will continue to support the panel’s work.”
In a year when COVID-19 threatens the health and well-being of everyone on the planet, the seventy-fourth session of the World Health Assembly (WHA) will stress the urgency of ending the current pandemic and preventing the next one by building a healthier, safer and fairer world.
The Health Assembly is WHO’s highest decision-making body and is attended by delegations from all around the world. It will also be open to Associate Members, Observers, invited representatives of the UN and other participating inter-governmental organizations, and non-State actors. This year’s session will run from 24 May to 1 June 2021, and be held virtually.
Over the past year, cases of COVID-19 rose 40-fold to 162 million globally, while the number of deaths has increased 11 times, to more than 3.3 million.
The pandemic has hit all countries hard, but its impact has been harshest on those communities which were already vulnerable, who are more exposed to the disease, less likely to have access to quality health care services and more likely to experience adverse consequences (such as loss of income) as a result of measures implemented to contain the pandemic.
“A crisis often brings out the best in people and organisations,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “From the WHO Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan to our technical guidance, the Solidarity Trial, the UN Supply Chain Task Force, the OpenWHO.org learning platform and initiatives like the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator, including its COVAX partnership, and the Solidarity Response Fund, WHO has given countries effective and evidence-informed tools to prevent infections, save lives and maintain essential health services. I am especially proud of the incredible work that WHO staff have done all over the world in the past 17 months to support countries to put these tools to work.”
But the pandemic is far from over and the global response is at a critical phase. Stark contrasts still undermine progress, with vaccine inequity being one of the most urgent issues, posing a threat to ending the pandemic and to global recovery – over 75% of all vaccine doses have been administered in only 10 countries; the lowest income countries have administered less than half a percent of global doses.
"This year's World Health Assembly will play a vital role in shaping the global health architecture of the future, and in strengthening WHO to fulfil its mission and mandate", added Dr Tedros.
The Assembly’s agenda will focus on the health-related Sustainable Development Goals and WHO’s Triple Billion targets of one billion more people benefitting from universal health coverage; one billion more better protected from health emergencies; and one billion more enjoying better health and well-being.
WHO’s results report, will also be presented during WHA.
A high-level segment will take place on 24 May (10:00 -12:00 CEST) with participation from Heads of State and Governments and special guests, as well as an address by the WHO Director-General.
The Assembly’s two Committees - Committee A, which deals with predominantly programme and budget matters and Committee B, which deals mainly with administrative, financial and legal matters – will then consider the individual agenda items. Highlights include:
- Proposed programme budget 2022–2023
- WHO’s work in Health Emergencies, the COVID-19 response, including mental health preparedness for and response to the COVID-19 pandemic
- Global strategy and plan of action on public health, innovation and intellectual property
- Global action on patient safety
- WHO global strategy on health, environment and climate change
- Noncommunicable diseases
- Antimicrobial resistance
- Immunization Agenda 2030
- Health in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development
- Global Strategic Directions for Nursing and Midwifery
- WHO transformation
Three reports on COVID-19 response will be presented at the Assembly: the Health Emergencies Programme’s Independent Oversight and Advisory Committee (IOAC), the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response and the Review Committee on the Functioning of the International Health Regulations (2005) during the COVID-19 Response.
The Assembly will be webcast live with interpretation in the WHO ’s six official languages. Proceedings can be followed at: https://www.who.int/about/governance/world-health-assembly/seventy-fourth-world-health-assembly
Provisional agenda in six languages: https://apps.who.int/gb/ebwha/pdf_files/WHA74/A74_1-en.pdfMedia accreditation for the World Health Assembly
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Provisional/preliminary list of Participants at the WHA74 will be issued on Sunday 23 May 2021 and can be found at: https://apps.who.int/gb/e/e_wha74.html.
Following the closure of the WHA74, the 149th session of the Executive Board will take place on 2 June 2021.
The Executive Board session will be webcast live with interpretation in the WHO ’s six official languages. Proceedings can be followed at: https://www.who.int/about/governance/executive-board/executive-board-149th-session