The International Monetary Fund (IMF) Tuesday called on countries around the world to provide $15 billion in grants this year and $10 billion a year thereafter to manage the long-term risks of COVID-19.
The IMF, in partnership with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), the Global Fund, and the Wellcome Trust, made the recommendation in a working paper titled "A Global Strategy to Manage the Long-term Risks of COVID-19" that urged a more "comprehensive" and "integrated" pandemic response from the international community.
"It is now evident that COVID-19 will be with us for the long term, and there are very different scenarios for how it could evolve, from a mild endemic scenario to a dangerous variant scenario," the working paper noted. "This realization calls for a new strategy that manages both the uncertainty and the long-term risks of COVID-19."
Now is not the time to ease up
"Overall, health security is economic security," said the IMF's First Deputy Managing Director Gita Gopinath, who previously served as the Fund's chief economist. "The international community should recognize that its pandemic financing addresses a systemic risk to the global economy."
Gopinath noted that the IMF's January World Economic Outlook Update estimated the cumulative losses from the pandemic will be $13.8 trillion from 2020 to 2024. "The cost of inaction, for all of us, is very high. We need to act now," she said.
Echoing her remarks, Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust and a renowned medical researcher, said that "now is not the time to ease up," noting that the next move of the virus is "anything but certain" and the risk of new variants remains high.
"We need to set our sights on developing next-generation vaccines that can block transmission and won't require endless boosters, strengthening genomic surveillance globally so we can identify and track new variants and improving global access to vaccines, treatments and tests," Farrar said. "Leaving any countries unprotected puts us all at risk."
Optimize global health system
The newly released paper laid out four policy implications: achieve equitable access beyond vaccines to encompass a comprehensive toolkit; monitor the evolving virus and dynamically upgrade the toolkit; transition from the acute response to a sustainable strategy toward COVID-19, balanced and integrated with other health and social priorities; adopt a unified risk-mitigation approach to future infectious disease threats beyond COVID-19.
Accordingly, the international community should allocate additional funding to fight pandemics and strengthen health systems both domestically and overseas, the paper argued. This will require about $15 billion in grants this year and $10 billion annually after that.
"This price tag is substantial, but failure to invest now, and build on the gains made in the response to COVID-19, will result in human and economic costs that will reverberate for generations," said Richard Hatchett, CEO of CEPI.
"A future in which we are to respond to the next Disease X with new vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics in just 100 days is possible, but it will take vision, political will, and commensurate financial investments from governments around the world."
Peter Sands, executive director of Global Fund, believed that the next phase of the fight against COVID-19 will be different. "We are in for a long fight against a virus that continues to evolve. So we must shift to a more sustainable response that recognizes the linkages between responding to COVID-19, tackling the earlier pandemics of HIV, TB (Tuberculosis) and malaria, and preparing for future pandemic threats," he said.
The paper also showed that one of the dangerous legacies of the COVID-19 pandemic, exacerbated by the consequences of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, is weakened capacity in developing countries to invest in their people (including in health) combined with a lower appetite for grant support for development as countries prioritize their economies.
"This means the fundamental problem of weak health systems in developing countries and under, investment in global health threats will remain, unless securing resilience is recognized as a common goal and its financing is taken up as a global priority," according to the paper.