The World Health Organization (WHO) has launched an Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator in collaboration with various countries and health organisations. It will work to hasten the development, production and equitable access to essential COVID-19 health technologies.

“Past experience has taught us that even when tools are available, they have not been equally available to all,” said Tedros Ghebreyesus, director general of WHO. “We cannot allow that to happen.” The ACT Accelerator is expected to bring the “combined power of several organizations to work with speed and scale.”

The initial group includes Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, Gavi, Global Fund, Unitaid, Wellcome Trust, and private sector partners and other stakeholders.

COVID-19 has infected nearly 2.8 million worldwide, has killed more than 195,000 people since it was detected in December 2019. It has now infected more than 100,000 people each in seven countries, the highest numbers being in the US (890,524).

On March 15, India had proposed a COVID-19 Emergency Fund for SAARC countries based on voluntary contributions from all member-countries, with India making an initial offer of $10 million for the fund. India has detected more than 24,000 cases and reported 775 deaths until April 25.

Seventy-six trials are on across the world to develop a vaccine for SARS CoV-2, as per the WHO’s list, of which 71 are in preclinical evaluation and five in clinical evaluation. Six Indian companies are working on a vaccine for COVID-19, Livemint reported on April 16.

“It is important that countries in Asia and Africa anticipate that a vaccine will hopefully become available within a year or a year and half and do everything possible to make it possible to get these vaccines to the people who need them as soon as possible,” Wafaa El-Sadr, director of ICAP at Columbia University and professor of Epidemiology and Medicine at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health told IndiaSpend. Vaccines’ prices must be negotiated so that the global community as a whole can benefit from them, she said.

The WHO has been working with researchers and institutions to develop and test vaccines, standardise regulatory pathways on innovative trial designs and define criteria to prioritise vaccine candidates, it said in an April 24 news release. It has prequalified diagnostics to be used worldwide, and is coordinating a global trial for four therapeutics or treatment options against COVID-19.

The world is “at least $8 billion short of what’s needed today,” said Jeremy Farrar,

director of Wellcome. Although this is not the final cost, this is required “to fund the immediate research, the development of tests, treatments and vaccines, and also to ensure the world has the capacity to manufacture and deliver these tools quickly enough….”

On May 4, the European Commission will host a drive to raise €7.5 billion (Rs 62,000 crore) to support the ramping up of COVID-19 diagnostics and treatments, said Ursula von der Leyen, the Commission’s president.

As efforts and collaborations are on, “data must be shared, production capacity prepared, resources mobilized, communities engaged, and politics set aside,” said António Guterres, the UN secretary-general.

(With inputs from Disha Shetty)