As the third United Nations General Assembly of the COVID-19 pandemic reached its conclusion, many countries are far from meeting global targets on vaccination coverage, testing rates, and access to treatments and PPE.
The co-chairs of the ACT-Accelerator’s Council Tracking and Accelerating Progress working group warn that coordinated action, sustained political will and funding commitments are still needed, to save lives and combat the ongoing threat of COVID-19.
The group – co-chaired by Indonesia and the United States – is responsible for tracking progress toward the global COVID-19 targets for access to vaccines, diagnostics, treatments, and PPE, under the umbrella of the ACT-Accelerator equitable access partnership.
Ahead of several high-level events at the UNGA to take stock of progress, Indonesia’s Tri Tharyat and the United States’ Loyce Pace highlight that while progress is being made, the global threat of COVID-19 is far from over, particularly for high-risk groups in lower-income countries. According to the most recent Global COVID Access Tracker data, around a quarter of those most vulnerable globally still need a primary COVID-19 vaccination series (24% of elderly persons and 26% of health workers).
Indonesian Ambassador Tri Tharyat, Director General for Multilateral Cooperation at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said “Critical funding and political leadership is needed for the roll-out of tests, treatments and vaccines. Funding the ACT-Accelerator will support its work to expand access to life-saving tools, from new oral antivirals to booster vaccine doses, to ensure healthcare workers and those who are most at-risk are protected wherever they live in the world. We must quickly translate vaccines into vaccination. No-one is safe until everyone is safe.”
The Working Group notes with concern:
- COVID-19 vaccination rates in low-income countries stand at 19%, compared to almost 75% in high-income countries.
- Low income and lower-middle income countries are still far from the 100 tests per 100k population per day target; low-income countries are testing at a rate of just 2/100k population, while lower-middle income countries are at 22/100k population.
- The roll-out of new lifesaving COVID-19 treatments including oral antivirals in low and lower-middle income countries remains limited or non-existent.
- Equitable access to these COVID-19 countermeasures and preparation for the delivery is critical for countries to integrate the management of the virus into their primary health systems, as part of a longer-term strategy.
Loyce Pace, Assistant Secretary for Global Affairs at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said: “Support for vaccine readiness and uptake are making an important difference to increase COVID-19 vaccine coverage and significantly reduce the number of countries with very low COVID-19 vaccination rates. Primary series coverage in the COVAX AMC 92 countries increased from 28% in January of 2022 to 51% in September. There is still progress to be made in global vaccination rates and lessons for how successful efforts might apply to testing or treatment initiatives at the country level.”
Access to tests and treatments key for those at highest risk
As a report on access to COVID-19 tests and treatments is published today, the co-chairs of the council’s Therapeutics and Diagnostics Working Group, Mustaqeem de Gama of South Africa and Ian Dalton of the United Kingdom, highlight the decline in testing rates and the lack of equitable access to new antiviral treatments for COVID-19.
The Working Group report emphasizes that diagnostics and therapeutics, and associated test-to-treat strategies, are fundamental components of pandemic response, both for COVID-19 and future health threats. The report makes sixteen recommendations for action for medium and long-term COVID-19 control, as well as the strengthening of prevention, preparedness and response (PPR).
Mustaqeem De Gama, Director of Legal International Trade at South Africa’s Department of Trade, Industry and Competition said: “The swift, equitable roll-out of vaccines, tests, and treatments is crucial to help countries combat COVID-19. Without adequate testing and sequencing, the world is blind to the evolution of the virus and potential new variants. People in low and middle-income countries continue to die due to a lack of access to antiviral treatments and oxygen. We must push on for equitable access to COVID-19 tools, despite multiple competing priorities.”
Ian Dalton, Senior Head of Pharmaceuticals and Diagnostics at the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said: “As the report shows, investments in diagnostics and therapeutics capacity for COVID-19 pays dividends for future pandemic prevention, preparedness and response. There are action points to be taken forward from the analysis undertaken by the working group, and I hope partners will see it as a springboard for action.”
Redoubling efforts and political momentum
In the context of these calls to action, a series of high-level events at the UNGA will shine a spotlight on the rollout of COVID-19 tools and the urgent need for action and continued political support to achieve equitable access.
An event hosted by the UN Secretary General on September 23rd will take stock of the global roll out of COVID-19 vaccines, diagnostics and treatments, identify priority areas to accelerate equitable access, and seek to mobilize additional political support to effectively end the pandemic this year, by accelerating vaccination rates and implementing test-to-treat strategies everywhere.
A Foreign Ministerial meeting co-chaired by Bangladesh, Botswana, Spain and the USA, as part of the COVID-19 Global Action Plan (GAP) initiative, will take place on the margins of the UNGA. It will focus on maintaining continued political engagement, coordination, and action to end the acute phase of the pandemic, including on vaccine delivery, closing information gaps, supply chain strengthening, support for health workers, access to diagnostics and treatments, and future global health security architecture.
John-Arne Røttingen, Norway’s Ambassador for Global Health, said: “We have made huge collective progress, thanks to the work of countries, ACT-A agencies, financial contributors, civil society and other partners. We call on countries to support meeting the vaccine coverage targets in all countries, as well as rolling out test and treat programs. There is still a funding gap to get this job done and all countries should make fair share contributions to ACT-Accelerator.”
Professor Olive Shisana, President’s Special Advisor on Social Policy, South Africa, said: “The pandemic continues to pose a threat to lives and livelihoods, especially in Africa, where millions of people are still unvaccinated and do not have access to new antiviral treatments. Now is not the time for complacency, but instead time to act together in solidarity, to ensure access for everyone, everywhere.”