Key actors: Who is leading the COVID-19 aid response?
Some organizations have set up COVID-19 task forces, others have named several officials to head up the response to the pandemic.
The coronavirus has disrupted the aid industry. Donors and aid organizations are finding ways to effectively respond to the crisis, which has now affected over 200 countries and territories, with over 4.5 million confirmed cases and over 300,000 deaths globally.
Aid organizations have adopted different structures and set-ups in response to the pandemic. In some organizations, a task force has been set up to focus on the pandemic, often including leaders already involved in organizations’ strategy, coordination, and response. In others, one senior official has been given the task.
Here’s who’s leading the COVID-19 response in some of the biggest organizations.
The African Development Bank
AfDB has launched a number of initiatives to help member countries and businesses in the continent affected by the pandemic. This included the launch in April of the $10 billion COVID-19 rapid response facility, which Khaled Sherif described as a “stimulus” meant to ensure governments have access to the resources they need to pay debt, pensions, and government salaries, and for the private sector to remain afloat in the midst of the global crisis. The bank also launched a $3 billion Fight COVID-19 Social Bond, and approved a $2 million emergency assistance for the World Health Organization’s work in the continent.
The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank
AIIB, headquartered in Beijing, announced a scale-up of public health infrastructure financing in the wake of the pandemic in March. In April, it launched a Crisis Recovery Facility to respond to the urgent economic, financial, and public health pressures. The facility initially offered $5 billion in financing, but the bank has since raised this to $10 billion due to high demand.
Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
It’s unclear how much DFAT has provided to the response. What is known, is that Australia has responded to requests for support in the areas of laboratory diagnosis, provision of personal protective equipment, and support for surveillance and risk communication in the Pacific region. DFAT is using a combination of its emergency fund and existing ODA allocations. The Indo-Pacific Centre for Health Security, headed by Robin Davies, has also deployed specialists to work with WHO in the Pacific, and several Pacific island governments’ health ministries, including through its partnerships with Australian medical research institutions.
DFAT has incorporated temporary COVID-19 task forces in its organizational structure, but has the following people leading on COVID-19-related foreign assistance: Elizabeth Peak and Jamie Isbister are in charge of DFAT’s coronavirus development policy.
Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency
In April, Åsa Andersson, Sida’s current lead policy specialist on health and sexual and reproductive health and rights, highlighted the organization’s long-term support for health systems and current efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19, including ensuring at-risk groups are not being left behind. Its funding has gone to hand-washing campaigns and health funds aimed at ensuring access to health care, including for vulnerable groups such as pregnant women, people living with HIV, and LGBTQ people.
Many of the health funds are being repurposed to meet immediate needs related to COVID-19. In Myanmar, for example, funds are being used for COVID-19 testing and purchases of personal protective equipment.
A spokesperson said: “[Sida’s] work is highly affected by the virus, and many of the contributions are being reprogrammed and adapted to meet the needs in the current situation.”
UN-Habitat launched its COVID-19 response plan in April as the coronavirus affected more cities and posed threats to the health and well-being of people living in densely populated urban settings. The plan focuses UN-Habitat’s response in three areas: supporting local government and community-led solutions, providing urban data evidence-based mapping and knowledge, and helping cities mitigate the economic impact of COVID-19. The program provides online virtual learning platforms to help cities share and exchange innovative solutions in dealing with the crisis.
United Nations Foundation
The United Nations Foundation and the Swiss Philanthropy Foundation set up the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund in March to help support WHO’s COVID-19 response — including some of its partners. The fund accepts donations even from individual donors and businesses worldwide.
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
UNHCR has raised concerns over the plight of refugees and people displaced within their own countries amid the pandemic, highlighting issues such as evictions, the loss of livelihoods, and an increase in displacement. In response, it has provided cash assistance and isolation units. In some cases, UNHCR has boosted the capacity of health care facilities, from covering refugees’ COVID-19 tests to the provision of medical supplies and equipment.
United Nations Children's Fund
Globally, UNICEF is engaged in different aspects of the response, such as providing personal protective equipment, medical supplies, and WASH kits; issuing guidance on school meals and other topics; working with governments on social protection policies; and disseminating vital information on COVID-19.
UNICEF leads the nutrition, WASH, and education clusters and child protection area of responsibility under the Inter-Agency Standing Committee’s Emergency Directors Group and co-leads the risk communication and community engagement pillar under the WHO Incident Management Support Team.
UNICEF has a COVID-19 secretariat, with three senior officials leading on coordination, operations, and technical response.
The U.S. Agency for International Development
The U.S. government has committed close to $800 million in emergency health, and humanitarian, economic, and development assistance for the coronavirus globally, according to its latest update. That includes about $200 million in emergency health assistance from USAID’s Global Health Emergency Reserve Fund for Contagious Infectious-Disease Outbreaks and global health programs account, and about $300 million in humanitarian assistance from its international disaster assistance account.
However, USAID has been caught up in controversy following reports of U.S. government restrictions on agency grant funding and shipments of medical supplies overseas.
Wellcome has been supporting research and development of COVID-19 diagnostics, treatments, and vaccines. It also advocates for equitable access to these. In April, it announced COVID-Zero, aimed at raising $8 billion in funding for COVID-19 research and development efforts and WHO’s COVID-19 response. The charity is also part of the trio of institutions that launched the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator.
In remarks at a virtual event on May 13, Axel van Trotsenburg said the bank will provide up to $160 billion in financing toward health, economic and other social shocks countries are facing worldwide for a period of over 15 months. This includes $50 billion of the bank’s International Development Association resources, its financing window for the world’s poorest countries.
The World Bank first announced a financing package of $12 billion on March 3 to support countries responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, followed by an additional $2 billion two weeks later. Then in April, the Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility, launched by the bank in 2016, announced an allocation of $195.8 million to 64 low-income countries that have reported cases of COVID-19. The PEF funding was in addition to the $160 billion the bank has committed to for COVID-19. Some aid experts and officials however think the bank should scale up its financing.
World Food Programme
WFP is providing key logistical support in the COVID-19 response amid a significant decrease in commercial flights worldwide. In April, the U.N. program flew critical personal protective equipment and medical devices to countries in Africa as part of the first U.N. Solidarity Flight. On May 1, it also flew the first set of humanitarian workers responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The program has set up regional transport hubs or air bridges in several locations in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, and Europe to help transport coronavirus-related cargo and personnel responding to the pandemic. The transport can also be used for medical evacuations. WFP and WHO co-chair the U.N. COVID-19 Supply Chain Task Force.
WFP does this while working to assess the impact of the pandemic on hunger and food security and adapting its strategy to continue food distributions in countries of operation.
The World Health Organization
The World Health Organization has been providing advice to the public on how people can protect themselves from COVID-19; issuing technical guidance and policy recommendations to governments on different aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic; and playing a central role in coordinating the international response to the crisis.
It has launched and taken part in numerous COVID-19 initiatives, the latest one being the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator, which is aimed at speeding up the development and production of vaccines, diagnostics, and therapeutics for COVID-19 and ensuring equitable and affordable access to them. The U.N. health agency also spearheaded the launch of the “solidarity trials” to assess four treatment options for COVID-19 and speed up the search for a solution.
But WHO has suffered criticism, and U.S. President Donald Trump announced a funding freeze to the agency after accusing it of mismanaging the pandemic and relying too heavily on information from China.