The World Health Organization (WHO), together with a group of global partners, launched a groundbreaking collaboration to accelerate both the development and equitable access to new essential technologies for COVID-19.
At a virtual conference on Friday, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and other global leaders made an unprecedented commitment to work together to accelerate the development, production and equitable distribution of vaccines, diagnostics, and therapeutics for COVID-19, Xinhua news agency reported.
Addressing the opening of the virtual conference, Tedros said that "our shared commitment is to ensure all people have access to all the tools to defeat COVID-19."
"Today, WHO is proud to be uniting with many partners to launch the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator, or the ACT Accelerator," the WHO chief said.
Showing his strong support to the new collaboration, French President Emmanuel Macron said that from the moment the world wins this battle against the disease, the vaccine should be accessible to all populations as soon as possible and everywhere.
"It would be inexplicable and inexcusable to say that this vaccine would only be accessible in the country it was invented in or where Big Pharma (drug companies) have invested," Macron said.
Calling for the development and production of COVID-19 tools that are universally accessible, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres told Friday's conference that treatments and vaccines for the virus should belong to the whole world, not to individual countries or regions.
He added the treatments must be "affordable, safe, effective" and "easily administered".
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said at the conference that Germany is ready to fully support the collaboration and will make a substantial contribution to the pledging conference scheduled to take place in early May.
"We will only defeat this virus if we join forces and form a powerful alliance," Merkel stressed.
As one of the co-hosts of Friday's virtual conference, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that the objective at a global pledging effort in early May would be to raise 7.5 billion euros (8.1 billion U.S. dollars) to ramp up work on prevention, diagnostics and treatment.
"This is a first step only, but more will be needed in the future," von der Leyen said.
Participants in Friday's conference also include leaders from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), GAVI-the Vaccine Alliance, the Global Fund, UNITAID, the Wellcome Trust, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement (IFRC) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
In a media statement issued after Friday's announcement of the collaboration, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, said that the group will seek to implement innovative diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines at record speed and at record scale in a bid to defeat COVID-19.
"As long as COVID-19 threatens any country, the entire world is at risk and therefore every effort must be made to avoid mistakes of the past by ensuring protection is extended to everyone on earth, not just those with the means to afford it," it said.
A WHO spokesperson has told reporters that past experience showed that in the deployment of vaccines against the H1N1 outbreak in 2009, even when tools are available, they have not been equally available to all.
"So the challenge is to speed up and harmonize processes to ensure that once products are deemed safe and effective, they can be brought to the billions of people in the world who need them," the WHO spokesperson said.