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White House summit leads to big promises to fight COVID in needy countries

People line up to get the Sinopharm vaccine in Harare, Zimbabwe. World leaders promised to speed up vaccine distribution to low- and middle-income countries at the White House's second Global COVID-19 Summit on May 12.
Tafadzwa Ufumeli
Getty Images
People line up to get the Sinopharm vaccine in Harare, Zimbabwe. World leaders promised to speed up vaccine distribution to low- and middle-income countries at the White House's second Global COVID-19 Summit on May 12.

We're still in a pandemic — and we can't be distracted by the war in Ukraine and other global crises.

That was the big message at the second Global COVID-19 Summit, a virtual event hosted by the White House along with the governments of Belize, Germany, Indonesia and Senegal on Thursday. It aimed to refocus world leaders' attention on fighting COVID.

The summit was "a win against complacency," wrote Carolyn Reynolds cofounder of the Pandemic Action Network in an email to NPR. The network had urged the White House to hold the summit. She added that the half-day event has "provided a much-needed shot in the arm for both the global COVID response and to begin to prepare the world for the next pandemic threat."

She said governments and members of the private and public sector in attendance made significant commitments to protect people from COVID, particularly those in low- and middle-income countries.

Here are four of the big takeaways from the May 12 event.

The world pledged $2 billion to fight COVID in poorer countries ...

The European Commission, Canada and other nations made new pledges at the summit to deliver COVID vaccines and provide testing and treatment to low- and middle-income countries. These funds are about "responding to the pandemic in the here and now," says Reynolds, "saving lives, protecting people from this virus."

... and another $1 billion to protect against future pandemics

A pool of money was established by the U.S., the European Commission, Germany and the Wellcome Trust, a U.K.-based foundation, for the new Fund for Pandemic Preparedness. These funds, says Reynolds, will help countries — particularly those with the weakest health systems — "prepare for future surges of the virus and the next pandemic threat, because we know there will be one."

The plans would include setting up systems to detect outbreaks faster, equipping health providers to respond more quickly to diseases and ensuring supply chains for vaccines, tests, treatments and personal protective gear.

The U.S. government is sharing the recipes for 11 crucial COVID technologies

The U.S. National Institutes of Health is giving the licenses for several COVID technologies, which include vaccines, tests and treatments to the World Health Organization and the U.N. Medicines Patent Pool.

This will help manufacturers around the world — especially those that distribute to low- and middle-income countries — "accelerate the development of a next generation of COVID vaccines, treatments and tests and get them out to people faster, which we will need because this virus is still with us and keeps mutating," says Reynolds.

Generic Paxlovid will be available in poorer nations

A generic version of Paxlovid, a drug that can help patients recover from mild to moderate COVID cases, will now be available in low- and middle-income countries for under $25 per treatment course. The Clinton Health Access Initiative, a global health group, announced agreements today with leading generic manufacturers, which are devoting capacity to produce 4.5 million treatment courses per month for poorer nations.

"We know that treatments [like Paxlovid] are making a huge difference in saving lives. We need that technology to be shared with the world. But there has been a significant supply and affordability issue in regard to that," says Reynolds. "This will enable more people around the world to get access to this treatment that we have access to here in the United States. And it's going to be a significant step to making sure we can save lives everywhere."

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Malaka Gharib is the deputy editor and digital strategist on NPR's global health and development team. She covers topics such as the refugee crisis, gender equality and women's health. Her work as part of NPR's reporting teams has been recognized with two Gracie Awards: in 2019 for How To Raise A Human, a series on global parenting, and in 2015 for #15Girls, a series that profiled teen girls around the world.