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WHO launches crowdfund for COVID-19 response
For the first time, WHO is asking the general public and private donors for support. The project is
a test run for the WHO Foundation, to be launched later this year. Ann Danaiya Usher reports.
The COVID-19 Solidarity Response
Fund for WHO, managed by the
UN Foundation and the Swiss
Philanthropy Foundation, has been
launched to raise money from
individuals, the private sector,
and foundations to finance WHO’s
response to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.
10 days after its March 13 launch,
it had raised US$71 million from
170 000 individuals and organisations, including Facebook, Google,
and FIFA.
The mechanism is unprecedented
for WHO, says Kate Dodson at the
UN Foundation. While UN agencies
such as UNICEF have a long tradition
of private fundraising, this has never
been the case for WHO. Because of the
agency’s standard-setting role, it has
been seen as important to keep an
arm’s length from private interests.
This breakthrough was possible in
the midst of the current health crisis
because the UN Foundation has a
well established relationship with
WHO, she says. “When companies
give to the COVID-19 Solidarity
Response Fund, their funds go to
the UN Foundation in first instance.
We have set up the Fund to ensure
that all contributions are treated
equal: donors cannot earmark
their contributions, and funding
from all donor sources (individuals,
companies, and philanthropies) is
comingled when disbursed to WHO
for WHO to put to urgent use.”
The new fund is designed to pool
donations from those who have
no historic relationship with the
agency. “It will support the WHO’s
overall strategic response plan for
COVID-19 and it is geared toward
the most vulnerable, at-risk countries
with the weakest health systems”,
Dodson says.
According to WHO, almost 30% of
countries have no COVID-19 national
preparedness and response plans,
and only half of countries have a
national infection prevention and
control programme and water,
sanitation, and hygiene standards in
all health-care facilities.
Governments have been slow to
respond to WHO’s efforts to raise
money for the COVID-19 response
through the usual appeal process.
On Feb 4, the agency asked the
international community for
$675 million to fund its plan for
dealing with the outbreak during
the 3-month period from February
to April, 2020. By March 8, WHO
Director-General Tedros Adhanom
Ghebreyesus warned that WHO was
facing an immediate $20 million
funding gap. “To be very frank, if no
new resources are received, we will
run out of money before the end of
the outbreak”, he said.
Suerie Moon, co-director of the
Global Health Centre at the Graduate
Institute of International and
Development Studies in Geneva,
Switzerland, says the donors’ failure
to step up left WHO with little
choice. “Their backs are against the
wall. Ideally, governments would
adequately fund WHO to do the
work they have asked the agency
to do”, she says. “The launch of the
Solidarity Response Fund is a good
sign that WHO is agile and responding
quickly to a rapidly changing
situation. But the real question is
why do they need to do so in the first
place? It reflects donors’ total failure
to fund the response to this outbreak
at the international level.”
According to Gaudenz Silberschmidt,
director for health and multilateral
partnerships at WHO, the origins of
this new COVID-19 fund are linked
to another, much larger project:
the WHO Foundation, an external
independent entity that will broaden
WHO’s funding base by raising
money from the general public,
private foundations, and the private
Thomas Zeltner, a physician and
former Swiss health minister, is set
to be the first chair of the foundation.
The UN Foundation and the Swiss
Philanthropy Foundation are both
helping to set it up. WHO is in
discussion with foundations outside
of Europe to expand the network.
But the WHO Foundation was not
yet finalised when the COVID-19
outbreak hit. “We were in the
build-up phase and realised that
the foundation would not be
operational in time for [COVID-19]”,
Silberschmidt says. “We needed to set
up a separate mechanism.”
Although most of the $675 million
target has been funded, WHO
is already working on the next,
expanded phase of the appeal.
Total requirements could be ten
times this amount. Asked what the
fund-raising target for the COVID-19
fund is, he replied: “This is totally
uncharted territory. Our target is
to fund the needs. And they will be
Silberschmidt says the new Fund
for COVID-19 was both a necessity in
itself and a “test flight” for the WHO
Foundation, which is to be launched
later this year.
Ann Danaiya Usher

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