Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD)
26 January, 2021
Your Excellency Dag-Inge Ulstein, my brother and Minister of International Development of Norway,
Mr Bård Vegar Solhjell, Director General of Norad,
Dear colleagues and friends,
Good morning, and thank you for the invitation to address you today. And thank you for Norway’s support for WHO and global health, in the past year and over many years.
Norway has shown outstanding leadership in its commitment to multilateralism and in supporting unprecedented efforts to develop vaccines and therapeutics for COVID-19, in partnership with Gavi and CEPI.
I would especially like to thank Prime Minister Solberg for her leadership in chairing the facilitation council of the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator, together with South Africa. And of course I would like to thank also my brother Dag-Inge for his leadership.
One year ago today, two thousand cases of the disease we now call COVID-19 had been reported to WHO, with just 29 cases outside China.
This week, we expect to reach 100 million reported cases. More than 2.1 million people have lost their lives.
The past year has been one of great suffering and loss. But it’s also been one of incredible innovation, harnessing the power of science to develop tools to fight this new virus in record time.
We now have new rapid tests that provide results in less than 30 minutes, which are being rolled out soon.
We have identified dexamethasone to treat severe disease, which is being stockpiled for use in low and lower-middle income countries.
And we have safe and highly effective COVID-19 vaccines; one with emergency use listing by WHO and two authorized for emergency use by stringent regulatory authorities.
WHO is working to expedite the regulatory review of several other vaccines for emergency listing.
But we are now at a tipping point. The coming weeks and months will determine whether the commitments made by Norway and many other countries will bring about the results that we have committed to, and that we need.
For the past nine months, the ACT Accelerator and the COVAX vaccines pillar have been laying the groundwork for the equitable distribution and deployment of vaccines.
I want to thank our partners Gavi and CEPI for their exceptional work in bringing us to this point.
GAVI has an incredible track record of making lifesaving vaccines available in low-income countries. And CEPI is working to address the need for vaccines for emerging diseases.
And I also thank you, Norad, for your support for the health systems connector pillar of the ACT Accelerator.
Developing vaccines gets the headlines, but it’s vaccination that saves lives. Your support for the systems that will deliver these life-saving tools is a vital and under-recognized contribution, but I would like to point out how important NORAD’s contribution is. Takk skal du ha.
Multilateral efforts like this, which Norway has championed, have proven that working together leads to advances that are not otherwise possible.
Together, we have overcome scientific barriers, legal barriers, logistical barriers and regulatory barriers.
We have secured two billion doses from five producers, with options on more than one billion more doses, and we aim to start deliveries in February.
We have designed an unprecedented no-fault compensation scheme for serious adverse events, rare as they will be, that will cover every person in the 92 advanced market commitment countries who receive a vaccine through the COVAX Facility.
We also have an access and allocation framework, volume and price guarantees, stockpiles, and the COVAX Facility to facilitate equitable access to vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics.
In short, COVAX is poised to deliver what it was created for.
But all of this work is at risk. I think Dag-Inge said it, and I’m sorry for repeating it, but it’s important: As we speak, rich countries are rolling out vaccines, while the world’s least-developed countries watch and wait.
Every day that passes, the divide grows larger between the world’s haves and have nots.
Bilateral deals between countries and companies are putting the promise of COVAX at risk.
At least 56 bilateral vaccine deals have been signed, which fragments the market, forces countries to compete, and drives up prices.
COVID-19 vaccines are now being administered in 50 countries, nearly all of which are wealthy nations. Seventy-five percent of doses have been deployed in only ten countries.
It is understandable that governments want to prioritize vaccinating their own health workers and older people first.
But it is not right that younger, healthier adults in rich countries are vaccinated before health workers and older people in poorer countries.
The situation is compounded by the fact that most manufacturers have prioritized regulatory approval in rich countries where the profits are highest, rather than submitting full dossiers to WHO.
We’re calling on all manufacturers of vaccines that meet international standards of safety, efficacy and quality to prioritize their submission to WHO for Emergency Use Listing.
We must work together to prioritize those most at risk of severe disease and death, in all countries.
Vaccine nationalism is self-defeating and inefficient, leaving the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people at risk.
The emergence of rapidly-spreading variants makes the urgent and equitable rollout of vaccines all the more important.
To deploy COVID-19 candidate vaccines as early as possible, all UN and non-UN partners must support countries in the planning and preparation for the vaccine introduction.
We need urgent action from governments, vaccine producers and the global community to live up to their promises and work together to share access to vaccines.
First, prompt and equitable dose sharing is critical if we are to overcome this pandemic.
While so many European countries have made generous financial contributions to COVAX, it is just as important that COVAX receives timely donations of extra doses of vaccine.
To put it bluntly: many countries have bought more vaccine than they need.
It is critical that COVAX receives those extra doses soon, and not the leftovers many months from now.
Second, we need support to close the funding gap of 26 billion U.S. dollars for the ACT Accelerator this year, including 7.8 billion dollars for COVAX.
And third, even as we work to end the pandemic, we must learn the lessons it is teaching us.
All countries must invest in strengthening preparedness, especially primary health care, which is the eyes and ears of every health system, and the foundation of universal health coverage.
Primary health care is also essential for the prevention, early detection and management of non-communicable diseases.
I thank Norad for your leadership of the “Better Health, Better Lives” development strategy, to reduce premature deaths from NCDs in low-income countries.
Norway’s partnership will continue to be crucial in building the health systems of the future – that deliver the services people need, when they need them, and that can prevent, detect and respond rapidly to outbreaks.
2021 could be a year with renewed hope that we can overcome the acute phase of the pandemic.
If we act now, and act together, we can make that hope a reality.
We cannot succeed as countries acting alone. Global solidarity is the only way forward.