Advocacy Updates ~ May 12, 2021
U.S. backs proposal to waive COVID-19 vaccine patent rights
U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai announced the Biden-Harris Administration support of waiving intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines, noting “This is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures.” Tai committed that the U.S. would engage in text-based negotiations at the World Trade Organization (WTO) needed to make that happen. This announcement follows a proposal introduced last year to WTO by India and South Africa, which calls for waiving aspects of WTO’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) for COVID-related patents during the pandemic. The World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Dr. Tedros commended the U.S. on its decision to support the temporary waiver for COVID-19 vaccines.
President Biden addresses a joint session of Congress for the first time
On April 29, President Biden delivered his first address to a joint session of Congress. In his remarks, President Biden noted that as the U.S. supply of vaccines continues to grow, the U.S. will become an arsenal of vaccines for the rest of the world.
Samantha Power confirmed as USAID Administrator
On April 28, the full Senate voted 68-26 to confirm Samantha Power as the next administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Power previously served as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and on the National Security Council during the Obama administration. Administrator Power’s remarks at the USAID welcome ceremony can be found here. In an address at a G7 Ministerial session on sustainable recovery, specifically focused on health and vaccines, Administrator Power committed to sharing 60 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccines with partner countries and noted that the U.S. is exploring bilateral and multilateral approaches to sharing more. In an elevation of the role, Administrator Power will have a seat at the National Security Council.
Reach Every Mother and Child Act introduced in the Senate
On April 29, Sens. Chris Coons (D-DE) and Susan Collins (R-ME) introduced the Reach Every Mother and Child (Reach) Act, bipartisan legislation to strengthen U.S. efforts to end preventable deaths of mothers, newborns, and young children in the developing world by 2030. The Reach Act would direct USAID to develop and implement a strategy to support maternal and child health and establish a Maternal and Child Survival Coordinator at USAID.
SFRC Hearing on COVID-19 Pandemic and the International Response
Today, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) hearing on COVID-19 Pandemic and the International Response, with witnesses including Gayle Smith, recently appointed Coordinator for Global COVID Response and Health Security at the Department of State, and Jeremy Konyndyk, Executive Director of the COVID-19 Task Force at USAID.
Stage set for 74th World Health Assembly
The 74th Session of the World Health Assembly (WHA) is taking place virtually from May 24-June 1. Although the agenda covers a wide range of health topics, understandably much attention will be on the global response to the pandemic. Notably, numerous reports being released in the lead-up (more information below) will inform the ongoing discussions around WHO’s role in pandemic preparedness and response and the pandemic treaty proposal.
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Independent expert panel makes bold recommendations to prepare for the next pandemic
The Independent Panel on Pandemic Preparedness and Response, established to perform an independent and comprehensive review of lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, released its findings today, determining that the current national and international systems were not adequate in protecting people from COVID-19. The panel lays out a series of bold recommendations, including calling on high-income countries to provide COVAX Advance Market Commitment countries with one billion doses of vaccine by September 2021. The panel also urges heads of state to prepare for the next pandemic and implement a series of reforms, including creating an International Pandemic Financing Facility.
Independent oversight committee releases report on WHO Health Emergencies Program
The Independent Oversight and Advisory Committee for the WHO Health Emergencies Program released its ninth report on the performance of the organization’s emergencies program in advance of the upcoming World Health Assembly. The report stresses that WHO has demonstrated its ability to manage multiple health crises concurrently, but that the health emergencies program suffers from chronic financial and staffing constraints, particularly in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Review Committee releases findings on the functioning of the International Health Regulations during COVID-19
On May 5, the Review Committee on the Functioning of the International Health Regulations (IHRs) during COVID-19 released its findings. In the report, the Review Committee presents 40 recommendations in 10 key areas and emphasizes that the main objective of the IHRs is to protect health. The Committee’s report will be presented at the upcoming WHA and will inform future improvements to IHRs for emergency preparedness and response.
WHO and Germany launch global hub for epidemic and pandemic intelligence
The WHO and Germany have launched a new WHO Hub for Pandemic and Epidemic Intelligence, which will lead innovations in data analytics to help prevent, detect, and respond to global health threats for WHO and Member States.
WHO survey shows extensive disruption to essential health services during COVID-19
In early 2021, WHO launched the second round of surveys to better understand the extent of disruption to essential health services during the COVID-19 pandemic. Overall, 94% of the 135 participating countries and territories reported some kind of disruption, only slightly down from the results of the first survey conducted in 2020. According to WHO, 60 mass immunization campaigns are currently postponed in 50 countries.
Member States commit to tackling AMR at UN High-Level Dialogue
On April 29, the UN hosted a High-level Interactive Dialogue on tackling antimicrobial resistance (AMR). This meeting concluded with the presentation of a Call to Action previously agreed to by Member States. Actions listed in the document include keeping AMR high on the political agenda and strengthening and accelerating previous commitments to tackle AMR.