Donors pledge to strengthen immunization and accelerate fight against COVID-19

Continued funding is crucial to respond to COVID-19, end polio and tackle other vaccine-preventable diseases.

Tahira and daughter Dua attend a routine immunization session in Punjab province, Pakistan in January 2018. It is critical that immunization delivery systems are sustained through the COVID-19 pandemic. ©WHO Pakistan/Asad Zaidi

This month, world leaders have joined together to make several important commitments to strengthening public health infrastructure during the COVID-19 response – investments that will go a long way in protecting the most vulnerable communities, including those affected by polio.

On 4 May 2020, heads of government, institutions and industry pledged USD $7.4 billion (of the USD $8 billion goal) to ensure equitable access to new tools for COVID-19 globally. The funding will support the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator, which will help develop new global health technology solutions to test, treat and protect people, and prevent the disease from spreading.

A day later, several donors pledged new funding to Gavi, one of the partners of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), ahead of its upcoming replenishment in June 2020. This funding will not only help vaccinate hundreds of millions of children against diseases such as polio, but also ensure that immunization delivery systems are sustained through the pandemic.

The GPEI greatly appreciates outstanding donor community support for both the COVID-19 response effort and routine immunization programmes around the world.

The GPEI is continuing to do its part to support the COVID-19 pandemic, in solidarity with other health initiatives. In March, the Polio Oversight Board made the recommendation to pause polio vaccination campaigns to limit further spread of the disease. Countries extended their key polio eradication assets, like infrastructure and human resources, to support countries’ COVID-19 response efforts, while continuing essential activities. As of May, GPEI resources, including surveillance laboratories, and social mobilization and communication networks, are supporting COVID-19 response in at least 55 countries.

The pause of vaccination campaigns and the disruption of routine immunization services leaves millions of children at high risk of contracting polio, measles and other vaccine preventable diseases (VPDs). The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that vaccines, against both COVID-19 and VPDs, are crucial to protecting individuals, communities and economies.

As countries continue to implement their COVID-19 response plans, WHO and UNICEF are working with emergency and immunization partners to ensure the polio infrastructure not only supports the response, but also is fully funded in alignment with the ongoing efforts to finance COVID-19. While work is ongoing to cost those requirements, the GPEI hopes that specific COVID funds will be able to contribute towards its response efforts.

It is critical that essential health services and systems, including polio eradication efforts, have necessary support during both the response and recovery phases of this pandemic. While the GPEI has extended its assets to the global COVID-19 response effort, sustaining these programmatic resources is imperative. Continued donor commitments will enable the safe and effective resumption of polio vaccination campaigns as the situation evolves.

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