Over the past year, all across the world, we have felt the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, devastating the health of people and countries, and our interconnected economies. Applying lessons learned from the Ebola epidemic, the Liberian Government responded quickly and decisively; Liberia has been fortunate to have relatively few confirmed coronavirus cases or deaths.
But the human cost has still been high. In July 2020, the World Bank reported an additional 526,000 Liberians were at risk of falling into poverty due to the contraction of Liberia’s economy amid the global downturn. Many families have been hit hard by reduced incomes. Government has lost much-needed revenue, constraining resources. The health sector in particular has been stretched by the COVID-19 response. Children have missed out on education while schools were closed, and cases of sexual and gender based violence increased.
To end this pandemic, we need a global response. We are only safe from this virus if we are all safe. No one country can go it alone.
The Gavi COVAX Advanced Market Commitment (AMC) is the world’s best chance to provide global access to vaccines, by forming an international approach to ending the pandemic through the pooling of resources. This is why the UK has pledged £548 million ($772 million) towards COVAX, which will contribute to more than one billion COVID-19 vaccine doses for up to 92 eligible countries in 2021. And this is why in September 2020 we joined forces with the World Health Organisation (WHO), the UN and the Government of South Africa to bring the world together to drive development, production and equitable access to COVID-19 tests, treatments and vaccines.
COVAX has been supporting governments and partners, particularly for AMC-eligible participants, in readiness efforts and in preparation for this moment. This includes assisting with the development of national vaccination plans, the storage of vaccines at the right temperatures, as well as stocking up on half a billion syringes to deliver vaccines safely and safety boxes for their disposal. In addition, masks, gloves and other equipment is available to ensure that there is enough equipment for health workers to start vaccinating priority groups.
The past two weeks saw a big step forward in our efforts for global vaccine access as Gavi rolls out the first vaccines from COVAX to lower and lower-middle-income, and self-funding countries. Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire in West Africa were the first countries to receive the good news, and yesterday vaccines were delivered to Liberia. In the coming days and weeks, we will start to see jabs in arms.
In addition, the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed at the G7 leaders’ summit that the UK will share the majority of any future surplus coronavirus vaccines from our own supply with COVAX to support other countries. He also encouraged G7 leaders to increase their funding to COVAX to enable equitable access for high priority populations.
I am proud that the UK is working hand in hand with partners across Africa. Academic and scientific researchers are working on every single piece of the COVID-19 puzzle. We have all come together during this unprecedented pandemic delivering new vaccines, treatments and tests at the speed and levels needed.
Such innovative collaboration between companies, countries and institutions has delivered for the good of the world. The development of multiple coronavirus vaccines in approximately 300 days is undoubtedly a global achievement and we have all played our part.
We are not doing this alone. Working with all of our international partners – including the G7, G20, the EU, the AU, Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, the Commonwealth, the United Nations, the World Health Organization, the new COVAX Facility and others – we are delivering a strong global response.
The UK’s foreign policy has been clear from the onset of the pandemic: strengthen the resilience of vulnerable countries, ensure equitable access to vaccines which also helps stop new variants from emerging, and continue to support the global economy.
The UK not only has a longstanding record of supporting countries around the world to prepare for small outbreaks and to stop them becoming large ones, but also in responding to large disease outbreaks when they occur. Vaccines are the way out of this acute phase of the pandemic and an effective vaccine is the best way to protect people from the coronavirus. It will save thousands of lives around the world, enable health workers to get back to work and deliver other health services that have been disrupted and help begin the process of economic recovery from the impact of this crisis. As all viruses mutate over time, and new variants emerge regularly, the UK is proactively sharing its genomic expertise with our international partners around the world, allowing them to respond accordingly.
The UK will not be safe and able to rebuild our own economy until all our partners, across Africa and around the world, are safe and able to do so too.
The UK Government has helped support Liberia’s response in a range of ways – directly though UK Aid projects, and via our significant financial contributions to UN agencies and multilateral institutions such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and the World Health Organisation. In the health sector, we supported COVID-19 risk communication, contract tracing and community engagement. Our funding enabled Case Management and Infection Prevention & Control training for healthcare workers, and provided IPC materials. We supported messaging by radio, through religious leaders and grassroots women’s and youth groups. Our support to the WASH pillar helped construct facilities in communities and provide supplies to schools and healthcare facilities. We also helped train journalists on responsible reporting and identifying fake news on COVID-19.
Our projects are targeting the most vulnerable, helping them stay safe and recover from COVID’s economic impact. Through our partnership with the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection, the UK is supporting cash transfers to 15,000 households in poor communities in Greater Monrovia, targeting women. Our support to NGOs has funded WASH materials for pregnant and nursing mothers, handicraft and business training for women in West Point, fellowships for disabled students hit by schools’ closures, and creation of a free online education resource bank for students.
Working as partners to overcome this pandemic, being unified in our vision and efforts, we can all get to the other side of this terrible pandemic and build back better and stronger, whether it is our economies, livelihoods or future prospects. This is a historic step towards our goal to ensure global distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, in what will be the largest vaccine procurement and supply operation in history. The delivery is part of a first wave of arrivals that will continue in the coming days and weeks.
We are not in this alone. Together, we can overcome this pandemic.
By British Ambassador, Neil Bradley