News

Trump's decision to cut WHO funding was a mistake

Professor Brendan Crabb AC

16 April, 2020

Global impact of COVID-19, WHO website

“Global responses are needed to combat global health threats.” - Professor Brendan Crabb AC.

The article was published in the Sydney Morning Herald and has been reproduced below.

Trump’s decision to cut WHO funding was a mistake

US President Donald Trump’s decision to halt funding to the World Health Organisation for up to 90 days is the antithesis of action the global community needs right now. In the face of a global pandemic, only a co-ordinated global response can address the crisis. And only the WHO provides such leadership.

The United States contributes more than any other country to the WHO – more than US$400 million ($624 million) a year.

Cutting off these funds in the midst of a global pandemic is a major blow to the organisation as it oversees vaccine trials, distributes test kits and advises governments around the world about how to manage COVID-19.

Global responses are needed to combat global health threats. And while WHO leads this effort, three other organisations have been founded over the past two decades to ensure the world responds together to health problems – Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; and Unitaid.

These organisations have improved the development of and access to new developments in healthcare. They have played a crucial part in controlling infectious disease, reducing the mortality rate for those aged under five and alleviating poverty. Now, all three have turned their attention to the COVID-19 emergency.

Trump’s actions aside, governments around the world have recognised the benefit of working together to fight COVID-19 and have invested in research for solutions. We need to ensure new treatments and vaccines are accessible to everyone, everywhere, and at the same time.

Governments, industry and institutions that are financing or contributing to the development of drugs, vaccines or technologies for COVID-19 must agree to the sharing of intellectual property rights. We are talking about sharing, not giving up.

In practical terms, once public money is invested in the race to find treatments, states must demand that companies make available their licences without geographical limitations. This will guarantee the production of treatments that are effective, safe and affordable, everywhere in the world.

This is not a utopian dream. Ten years ago, Unitaid created the Medicines Patent Pool, which allows pharmaceutical companies to license their rights on a voluntary basis for use in low- and middle-income countries. This has enabled the production of generic medicines that today treat tens of millions of people around the world for conditions including HIV/AIDS.

Thanks to voluntary licences negotiated with the MPP, for example, 90 per cent of people on antiretroviral treatment in low- and middle-income countries have access to treatment for less than US$70 per patient per year, saving the global health community more than $US300 million a year.

We had to wait almost 10 years for these medicines to reach low- to middle-income countries. In the face of COVID-19, we cannot wait 10 years. The mandate of the Medicines Patent Pool has now expanded to include any heath technology that could contribute to the global COVID-19 response. Some companies have already signalled they are ready to share resources and technologies towards this common goal.

The exceptional circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic call for an exceptional response. In a spirit of solidarity, governments, international institutions and industry must commit to ensuring innovation comes with access, and support the WHO and other agencies. Actions like Trump’s only set the world back in its efforts to eradicate COVID-19.

Professor Brendan Crabb AC, Burnet Institute Director and CEO

Read the article on the Sydney Morning Herald’s website.

Contact Details

For more information in relation to this news article, please contact:

Burnet Institute

communications@burnet.edu.au

Telephone

+61392822111

Email

communications@burnet.edu.au

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