Saudi Arabia has played a ‘critical role’ in the global response to COVID-19

RIYADH: Chairman of the board of the Gavi vaccines group, José Manuel Barroso, said Saudi Arabia has played a vital role in the global response to COVID-19 and has made crucial efforts to help bridge the gap. global vaccine equity gap.

COVAX, the global COVID-19 vaccine initiative, co-led by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the World Health Organization and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, alongside UNICEF , a key delivery partner, raising urgent funds to support low-income countries. COVID-19 vaccination needs, and Barroso has held a number of virtual meetings with senior Saudi officials to discuss them.

In an exclusive interview with Arab News, Barroso, who is also the former Prime Minister of Portugal and President of the European Commission, said: “I have indeed had the pleasure of attending virtual meetings with key officials from the Ministry of Finance in Saudi Arabia and the leadership of the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center to discuss COVAX’s ongoing fundraising effort. Gavi CEO Dr Seth Berkley spoke with Ministry of Health officials to discuss how Saudi Arabia’s support could help our efforts to break COVID in 2022.

Decades before the pandemic, Saudi Arabia invested in its healthcare systems and focused on increasing the number of healthcare workers. This investment and preparation meant that when the pandemic hit, Saudi Arabia was better equipped than most countries to deal with the virus.

Jose Manuel Barroso

“I also had a very positive virtual meeting with Dr. Nayef Falah Al-Hajraf, Secretary General of the Gulf Cooperation Council, where we agreed to work together on common goals for global good and solidarity,” said he added.

“Saudi Arabia has played a vital role in the global response to COVID-19. In November 2020, as chair of the G20 summit in Riyadh, the country succeeded in mobilizing donors to commit significant funds to respond internationally to the COVID-19 pandemic, amounting to more than 825 million, including vaccines, medical supplies and medical equipment for 33 countries. .

“This money has helped protect millions of lives, but the pandemic will continue to evolve and we need to be prepared.”

There is enough supply to meet countries’ demands for COVID-19 vaccines, but with a new COVID variant emerging every four months, it is absolutely essential that the world avoids the 2020 scenario where the money had to be collected before the doses could be secured, Barroso mentioned.

“We have learned the importance of securing funding in advance, particularly if variant-matched vaccines are needed or if additional annual boosters are required. To mitigate this risk, COVAX is seeking contingent financing of $2.7 billion so that we are ready to place orders for additional vaccines as they are needed.

“This ability to act quickly is essential not only from a vaccine equity perspective, but it is also necessary from a health security perspective. Our goal is also to help countries protect as many people as possible, which is why we are seeking $1 billion for in-country delivery, to improve both vaccine deployment and uptake.” , Barroso said.

He pointed out that Saudi Arabia, along with the rest of the GCC states, can also provide stronger support to the member states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

“Of the 92 countries eligible to receive donor-funded vaccines under the Gavi COVAX Advance Market Commitment, 37 are OIC Member States and more than 740 million, or more than 60% of all COVAX vaccine doses have been delivered to these countries. With the start of Ramadan, it is an opportune time to show solidarity with low- and middle-income countries,” he said.

“Saudi Arabia has allocated $150 million to support the Gavi COVAX Advance market engagement, $5.3 million has been pledged by KSrelief, and we have also received $2.3 million from the Saudi Esports Gamers Without Borders initiative.This support, combined with funding from other donor countries, has enabled COVAX to provide more than 1.4 billion doses worldwide, protecting millions of lives in 144 countries, including 83 and low-income areas.

“Efforts like this help close the global vaccine equity gap, and there has been an increase in global vaccine coverage in recent months.”

However, the world urgently needs to ensure that vaccines find their way into weapons at a faster rate, so as not to leave space for the virus to mutate, he added.

With additional support, he said, Gavi and COVAX can help countries break down barriers to immunization by providing technical assistance, funding for vaccinators and health workers, and support to build systems. delivery, as they have done in recent months by disbursing over $600 million in delivery financing.

Regarding Saudi Arabia’s successful handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, Barroso said: “Decades before the pandemic, Saudi Arabia invested in its health systems and focused on increasing the number of of health workers. This investment and preparation meant that when the pandemic hit, Saudi Arabia was better equipped than most countries to deal with the virus.

“This is a big lesson for the world and demonstrates the importance of investing in our health systems and preparing for future pandemics and epidemics. With over 62 million doses of vaccine administered and strong community awareness to COVID-19, Saudi Arabia’s response to the pandemic is to be applauded.

Adding that the pandemic is far from over, he noted: “We are living through the worst pandemic in a hundred years, and although the global vaccine equity gap has started to close, there are still big gaps. differences in vaccination coverage between the poorest and the poorest. highest income countries. There have been over 6 million official deaths from COVID-19 and the global economy has shrunk by $12.5 trillion.

“Now is not the time for the world to become complacent; we have seen a new variant emerge every four months. In fact, a subvariant of the highly transmissible omicron version of the coronavirus, known as BA.2, is now dominant worldwide, causing outbreaks in many countries in Europe and Asia,” said he added.

Barroso said COVAX has established a global procurement, shipping and delivery system to improve vaccine equity and bring COVID-19 vaccines to low-income countries, resulting in the delivery over 1.4 billion doses to 144 countries.

Transparency has been a fundamental part of COVAX’s management process, he added, adding that COVAX regularly updates and consults with key partners and governments, and holds targeted briefings.