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Gavi: Covid-19

Volume 803: debated on Monday 18 May 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what support they have given to GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Question was considered in a Virtual Proceeding via video call.

My Lords, the UK has committed the equivalent of £330 million per year to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, over the next five years. As Gavi’s largest donor, UK funding will bolster and protect healthcare systems during the Covid-19 pandemic. That includes vaccinating children against other deadly diseases such as measles, yellow fever and polio. We look forward to hosting—virtually—the global vaccine summit on 4 June.

My Lords, what do the Government want to achieve at the summit in practical terms? Is this about securing offers of money or technical advice? What steps will the Government take to ensure that any pledges are met?

My Lords, in practical terms, our aim is to raise at least $7.4 billion to fund Gavi’s work over the next five years. That will save millions of lives. I encourage our international partners to follow the UK’s lead and step up their support to Gavi.

My Lords, Gavi does an excellent job, as I have seen for myself, but if it is to make the impact that it deserves to make, African Governments must act to bridge the $66 billion per year gap in fund- raising. There is a great need for better internal resource mobilisation and enhanced investment in healthcare systems, research, laboratories and the local health industry. Will the Government look at how they can support UK academic research and financial institutions to help bridge that gap?

My Lords, yes, the UK is working very closely with international financial institutions such as the World Bank to bridge the gap in funding.

I note that, as well as giving money to Gavi, the Government are also funding UK-based efforts such as that at the University of Oxford. Given the multiplier advantages of combining funds with others—the fact that there is no way of knowing which of the hundreds of vaccine efforts around the world will be successful and that no one is safe until all are safe—how are the Government deciding the division of funds between national efforts and international efforts such as Gavi?

My Lords, as the noble Baroness highlights, we are doing both. We are investing here in the UK and we are also investing in Gavi, CEPI and many other organisations. We also support the WHO’s access to Covid-19 tools accelerator, an action plan to accelerate the development and production of, and equitable access to, new Covid-19 diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines.

My Lords, while we commend all the efforts to try to find a vaccine, what steps are the Government taking to work with others on not just finding a vaccine but the supply and, later, the distribution of it? How can we use our role in Gavi to make that work?

My Lords, Gavi itself will help fund equitable access to and the distribution of vaccines. That is why it is so important that the world comes together to ensure that it gets the funding it needs.

My Lords, health systems in the countries where Gavi operates programmes are very stretched, and routine vaccination programmes are suffering from movement restrictions. What assessment have the Government made of the risk of a re-emergence of the diseases which have been suppressed or even eliminated through Gavi’s work?

My Lords, we are concerned about a resurgence. In addition to helping health systems respond to Covid-19, Gavi is helping poor countries adapt immunisation programmes. In areas where childhood immunisation services are disrupted, Gavi is planning an immunisation catch-up campaign to reach unimmunised children.

My Lords, in the forthcoming virtual summit, will my noble friend emphasise that a multilateral approach is far preferable than each Government seeking to go their own way and that those Governments who seek to put their own country first are likely to be the losers? It is in all our interests to stamp out this deadly disease, wherever it is.

I entirely agree with my noble friend that we must work together in a global pandemic; we cannot separate countries because diseases do not respect borders. Gavi supports vaccines in the world’s poorest countries to make sure that access and affordability are not barriers to future immunisation.

My Lords, experts have stressed the importance of nutrition as part of the pandemic response, likening good nutrition in infants to a vaccine against the secondary effects of the pandemic, as it is essential to building strong immune systems. Can the Minister expand on her previous Answers to the House and commit to ensuring that, whatever delays there are to the Nutrition for Growth Summit, there will be no cliff-edge in nutrition financing at the end of this year?

The noble Baroness is right to point out the importance of malnutrition and making sure we provide children with a good-quality diet, so that they are not affected more in the long term. I am afraid I am still not able to announce any future funding for nutrition, but I acknowledge—as I did previously—that we must ensure there is no cliff edge to funding.

My Lords, I see two challenges to developing the vaccine. It is no less challenging for us to ensure that, once the vaccine is available, everyone has access, with equal distribution, and that it is not too expensive for developing countries, such as Afghanistan, and for refugee camps. Gavi’s advance market commitment is required. I hope that no country has priority before other countries. I would like the Minister to assure me that we will encourage every country that can afford to give more money to Gavi to do so and that, at every bilateral meeting that our Ministers have or the Prime Minister has, they raise this among the other key issues that are affecting the global community now.

We are encouraging others to step up and donate to Gavi. It is high on our agenda in bilateral calls. We have already made our commitment and have seen lots of other commitments, both from countries and private companies, which are welcome if we are to achieve our aim.

My Lords, will the Government commit to help, in every way they can, to make sure that those firms that have contributed to a vaccine will continue to get a good market opportunity, if they are producing the vaccine at an affordable price? This seems important to Gavi’s work.

Yes, I can give that commitment. Kate Bingham, who was just appointed head of the UK Vaccine Taskforce, has outlined that one of her two immediate aims is

“to ensure adequate global distribution of vaccines to bring the quickest possible end to the pandemic.”

It is important that we support the private companies that are developing this vaccine to do so.

My Lords, how are the Government working with partners and retaining our commitment to childhood immunisation programmes and reproductive health services for women, particularly in many of the refugee camps—including the largest one in Bangladesh—and enabling localised solutions, in light of many global health emergencies? They include a shortage of PPE for health workers as they enter the camps.

My Lords, we are working closely with the UN agencies and NGOs in refugee camps to ensure that they continue to provide the life-saving SRHR support that they do, and that we provide them with the correct healthcare equipment, which they distribute to keep people safe.

My Lords, I ask the Minister to use her good offices, in advance of the summit on 4 June, to contact our Commonwealth partners about increasing immunisation against those deadly diseases to which she referred, in spite of the ongoing pandemic.

I reassure my noble friend that we are working closely with the Commonwealth, which has an essential role to play in our global response. Most recently, on 14 May, there was a virtual meeting with all Commonwealth Health Ministers, which was also attended by the director-general of the WHO and representatives of Commonwealth organisations, such as the Commonwealth Foundation and the Commonwealth Medical Association. We will continue to work closely with our Commonwealth partners to ensure that we end this pandemic.

Lords, we move on the second Question but, before we do, I will say that this was the first time we got through all 10 questions. I congratulate Members and the Minister on their prompt questions and replies.