The ACT-Accelerator marked its first anniversary on Friday with a special report on the global alliance’s progress against the COVID-19 pandemic. The “ACT now, ACT together 2020-2021 Impact Report” details the major scientific advances that have been made to confront the new disease, along with the history-making collaboration of global health organizations, governments, foundations, civil society, scientists and the private sector.
The report, which was launched at an event hosted by Dr Tedros Adhanom, Director-General of WHO, with live remarks by Cyril Ramaphosa, President of South Africa, and Dag Inge Ulstein, Minister of International Development for Norway, also shows the challenges ahead, including major funding gaps that threaten to derail progress against the pandemic.
“One year after the launch of the ACT Accelerator, world leaders face a choice: invest in saving lives by treating the cause of the pandemic everywhere, now, or continue to spend trillions on the consequences with no end in sight,” WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom said. “With a remaining funding gap of US$ 19 billion for 2021 and limited supply of products, we can only end the pandemic by funding, sharing, and scaling-up access to the tools we need to fight the disease. The time to ACT is now.”
The ACT-Accelerator alliance was launched on 24 April 2020 by WHO, the European Commission, France, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to develop and deliver tests, treatments and vaccines the world needs to fight COVID-19.
A year ago, the world was in a very different place. Our collective understanding of COVID-19 was limited, and while we had polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing that could be done in laboratories, there were no rapid tests, no vaccines, and little was known about effective treatments. Today, rapid diagnostic tests, repurposed treatments, and vaccines exist. This scientific progress has been rapid, and unprecedented in scale and levels of collaboration.
But COVID-19 continues to spread and new variants emerge because the progress on equitably distributing those tools has not been fast enough.
COVID-19 has killed more than 3 million people worldwide, another wave is threatening many countries, and inequitable distribution of tests, treatments and vaccines is allowing the virus to accelerate and change – risking the efficacy of our current tools to fight the disease. Left to rage anywhere, the virus is a threat everywhere. A strengthened, globally coordinated effort to ensure all countries can access the tools they need is essential to help bring this virus under control and is why support for the ACT-Accelerator partnership is so important.
“COVID-19 knows no borders,” ACT-A Special Envoy Carl Bildt said. “A new variant from anywhere could unravel progress everywhere, even in a country that has achieved 100% vaccination. The pandemic is still on the rise. Only a reinforced global effort to deliver tests, treatments, and vaccines to all people everywhere, based on need rather than ability to pay, will bring an end to this pandemic. Ahead of the Global Health Summit we call on the G20, G7, and all richer countries to step up and pay their fair share to fund the global response.”
The rapid development of COVID-19 tools has been achieved thanks to the hard work and ingenuity of governments, global health organisations, scientists, the pharmaceutical industry, and manufacturers from round the world. The ACT-Accelerator partnership has supported and helped drive many of these efforts. Today’s impact report highlights the progress the partnership has made, including:
- Diagnostics Pillar – co-convened by FIND and The Global Fund: Supported the development and Emergency Use Listing of reliable antigen rapid diagnostic tests (Ag RDTs) that can be conducted outside of laboratory facilities, guaranteed access to 120 million affordable rapid diagnostic tests, and procured 65 million tests (32.3 million molecular [PCR] tests and 32.8 million Ag RDTs) for LMICs.
- Therapeutics Pillar – co-convened by Unitaid and Wellcome: Tracked over 300 actionable trials, supported the identification of dexamethasone as the first life-saving therapy against COVID-19 and in less than 20 days after its identification, made 2.9m doses of dexamethasone available to LMICs. Formed the Covid-19 Oxygen Emergency Taskforce to meet the needs of more than half a million COVID-19 patients in LMICs who need oxygen treatment per day.
- COVAX – co-convened by CEPI, Gavi, and WHO – in partnership with UNICEF: Secured over 2 billion doses, with the first international delivery made to Ghana 3 months after the first vaccine was administered in a high-income country, and more than 40 million doses shipped to 119 economies via the COVAX Facility.
- Health Systems Connector – co-led by the World Bank, WHO, and The Global Fund – in partnership with UNICEF and the Global Financing Facility: US$ 50 million of PPE has been procured for LMICs and country readiness assessed for the deployment of COVID-19 vaccines in more than 140 countries.
The development of these tools was the first, critical step in getting the pandemic under control. The need for improved tools, and to get tools to those who need them most, has never been more urgent. Securing financing remains a major challenge, but not the only challenge.
Vaccinating at this scale and in this timeframe constitutes the largest and most complex vaccine rollout in history. There are significant challenges in manufacturing and delivering on such a scale and timeline, with severe supply constraints characterizing the market at present. Of the more than 950 million vaccinations that have been given – just 0.3% have been administered in low-income countries. Testing rates in high-income countries are about 70 times higher than those in low-income countries, leaving many countries blind with little information and current infection rates or the spread of new variants. People will continue to get COVID-19 and so we need to rapidly intensify research to expand the portfolio of effective treatments, and deliver the PPE and Oxygen needed to treat those in hospital – as demand for oxygen surges in many parts of the world.
An unprecedented mobilization of public, private, and multilateral funders has galvanized USD 14.1 billion in commitments so far, but as of today, the ACT-Accelerator partnership needs another US $19 billion to develop and deliver the tests, treatments, and vaccines needed to bring COVID-19 under control, and is calling on governments around the world to work with the ACT-Accelerator partners to fund, share and scale up the tools the world needs to bring an end to the acute phase of the virus.
The International Chamber of Commerce estimates that the global economy stands to lose as much as US$ 9.2 trillion if governments fail to ensure developing economy access to COVID-19 vaccines. Fully financing the ACT-Accelerator for 2021 would cost less than 1% of what governments are spending on stimulus packages to treat the consequences of COVID-19.