Empowering Smallholder Farmers to be Food System Change Agents

NOTE: This article was first published on farmingfirst.org and is reposted here with the permission of Farming First. 

The Nutrition for Growth Year of Action got off to an auspicious start at a virtual launch event last month, where prominent stakeholders announced investment commitments of more than $3 billion toward the upcoming Nutrition for Growth Summit‘s goal of addressing the hunger and nutrition crisis.

Separately, the UN is convening a Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) in September to identify strategies for making food and agriculture systems not only more nutritious but also more equitable, environmentally sustainable, and resilient to shocks such as the Covid-19 pandemic.

The pandemic’s serious impacts on health, well-being, and economies have heightened the sense of urgency to ensure that food systems can deliver nutritious diets to everyone, under any conditions. But food systems transformation will only happen if we succeed in engaging and empowering the hundreds of millions of smallholder farming families around the world who are highly vulnerable to malnutrition.

These families work three-quarters of all agricultural land and their diets depend primarily on what they grow. In Africa, 80 per cent of farms ­– 40 million across the continent – are of smallholder size. Often, these smallholders lack the means and the financial incentives to produce more nutritious foods for themselves, as well as for those who purchase from them.

Biofortification: A proven and scalable solution  

There is one proven, agriculture-based strategy, specifically tailored to smallholder families, which should be part of the solution toward food systems transformation: biofortified staple crops. These are varieties of rice, wheat, maize, beans, and other common staples that have been conventionally bred to contain nutritionally-significant levels of iron, zinc and/or vitamin A—all micronutrients that are essential for maintaining good health and ensuring proper mental and physical development in children. Biofortified crops are scientifically proven to improve nutrition and health outcomes when eaten regularly.

Biofortification research began in the 1990s within the CGIAR international agricultural research partnership, under the leadership of the HarvestPlus programme, as a response to widespread micronutrient deficiency among the world’s rural poor. The first biofortified crop variety was officially released to farmers in 2004 (a vitamin A orange sweet potato variety in Uganda).

Biofortified crops make nutrition accessible to farming families: They are one-for-one replacements for the lower-nutrient staple varieties that these families already grow. There is no sacrifice in yield or other agronomic traits important to farmers. These crops are also affordable for smallholder farming families, requiring no additional investment, and deliver micronutrients less expensively than typically higher-nutrient foods such as fruits, vegetables, and animal source products, which tend to be too costly for these families.

Biofortified crops also provide livelihood opportunities for farmers as well as small-scale entrepreneurs. SME food businesses are springing up throughout Africa, Asia, and Latin America to develop and sell food products with biofortified ingredients, creating a market for smallholders’ biofortified crops and an attractive financial incentive to grow them.

Most significantly in the Covid-19 era, biofortified crops also provide key micronutrients (particularly zinc and vitamin A) that boost health resilience by strengthening immune systems. Furthermore, since the micronutrients are delivered through staple foods, they are more likely to reach and benefit female household members. Research has shown that, in many rural regions, male household members have preferential access to animal source foods and other higher-nutrient food items.

Currently, more than 340 varieties of 11 staple crops are available to farmers in 40 countries, benefiting about 50 million smallholder family members. The CGIAR research centers provide biofortified varieties as public goods to countries, where national agricultural researchers work with farmers to adapt these varieties to local conditions and farmer preferences.

Biofortified crops are ready for rapid scale-up, based on this extensive proof of concept under real-world conditions. The HarvestPlus goal is to work with multiple partners to reach one billion people with these nutritious crops by 2030.

Strong interest among policymakers

There is strong and growing interest among national leaders for scaling up biofortification in their countries. In just the past few months, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a public declaration in favor of biofortified crops and their integration in nationwide food assistance programmes.

Tanzania released comprehensive biofortification guidelines that provide welcome guidance for farmers and food businesses. And Guatemala’s government included biofortified crops in a new national strategic food reserve that is part of a new Covid-19 economic recovery plan. These and other leaders recognise the valuable role biofortification can play in better food systems.

Commitments at this year’s two summits to scaling up biofortification will show that the international community has the interests of the most vulnerable rural families top of mind. Biofortified crops are an equitable, inclusive, and complementary response to global malnutrition that put positive food systems change in the hands of these families.

Andrew Natsios served as Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development from 2001-2006. He is Advisory Committee Chair of HarvestPlus, and executive professor at the Bush School and director of the Scowcroft Institute of International Affairs at Texas A&M University.

Bill and Melinda Gates: Covid-19 will change how the world thinks about health forever

At this time last year, the world was just starting to understand how serious a novel coronavirus pandemic could get.

Only a few weeks after we first heard the word “Covid-19,” we were closing our foundation’s offices and joining billions of people worldwide in adjusting to radically different ways of living. For us, the days became a blur of video meetings, startling news alerts, and microwaved meals — and we are well aware of how lucky we are compared to others. Over the past year, Covid-19 has killed over two million people worldwide, sickened millions more, and thrust the global economy into a devastating recession.

The experience of living through a pandemic has driven home what many people in developing countries knew all too well already: Health is the bedrock of any thriving society. If your health is compromised — or if you’re worried about catching a deadly disease — it’s hard to concentrate on anything else. Staying alive and well becomes your priority to the necessary detriment of all other things.

If you live in a wealthy country like the United States, chances are that last year was the first time an infectious disease has upended your life. That’s because in high-income countries infectious diseases are no longer what epidemiologists would call “a meaningful health burden.” In low-income countries, however, infectious diseases like malaria and tuberculosis are still major killers and adjusting life to account for a highly contagious pathogen is unfortunately nothing new. (Just ask the millions of people who sleep under a bed net each night.

But in 2020, a virus that had no regard for borders or geography upended lives all over the world, collapsing some of those distinctions between rich countries and poor countries. In doing so, it brought new meaning to the term “global health.”

In the past, “global health” was rarely used to mean the health of everyone, everywhere. Instead, “global health” was a term that people in rich countries used to refer to the health of people in non-rich countries — essentially a synonym for “developing country health.” If you attended a global health conference any time in the last decade, you were much more likely to hear about diseases in Uganda than diseases in the United States.

This past year, though, that changed. In 2020, global health went local. We all saw firsthand how quickly a disease you’ve never heard of in a place you may have never been can become a public health emergency right in your own backyard. Viruses like Covid-19 remind us that, for all our differences, everyone in this world is connected by a microscopic network of germs and particles — and that, like it or not, we’re all in this together.

Although history will probably remember these as the darkest days of the pandemic, hope is finally on the horizon. It’s possible that by the time you read this, you or someone you know may have already received a Covid-19 vaccine. The fact that these vaccines are already becoming available is, we think, pretty remarkable — and all credit is due to the largest public health effort the world has ever seen. No one country or company could have achieved this alone: Funders around the world pooled resources, competitors shared research findings, and everyone involved had a head start thanks to many years of global investment in technologies that have helped unlock a new era in vaccine development.

Of course, developing safe and effective vaccines is only the beginning of the story. Now, the world has to get those doses out to everyone who needs them — in high-income and low-income countries alike. Until vaccines reach everyone, new clusters of disease will keep popping up all over the world, and lives will continue to be lost. That’s why we were glad to see the United States include $4 billion for Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, in its latest Covid-19 relief package. Gavi will play a key role is distributing vaccines to low-and-middle-income countries — and smart policymakers understand that we can’t defeat Covid-19 until we defeat it everywhere.

The two of us are optimistic that the pandemic the world is living through right now will lead to a long-term change in the way people think about global health. Going forward, we hope that rich countries will have a deeper understanding that improving health in low-income countries not only saves lives overseas but also puts us in a better position to defeat the next set of global challenges.

Just as World War II was the defining event for our parents’ generation, the coronavirus pandemic we are living through right now will define ours. And just as World War II led to greater cooperation between countries to protect the peace and prioritize the common good, we think that the world has an important opportunity to turn the hard-won lessons of this pandemic into a healthier, more equal future for all.


Culled from CNN


Experimental monoclonal antibody not efficacious in Phase 3 trial

Preliminary results of a Phase 3, randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial testing the investigative monoclonal antibody LY-CoV555 in hospitalized COVID-19 patients were published today in The New England Journal of Medicine.

Experimental monoclonal antibody not efficacious in Phase 3 trial.

The antibody did not provide clinical benefit compared to placebo. The trial, which had been halted to new enrollment in late October following a recommendation by the independent Data and Safety Monitoring Board (DSMB), is part of the Accelerating COVID-19 Therapeutic Interventions and Vaccines (ACTIV) program. The trial is sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health.

The ACTIV-3 trial used a master protocol designed to allow study of multiple investigational agents compared to placebo in adults hospitalized with COVID-19. Participants in ACTIV-3 are randomly assigned to receive either an experimental agent or a matched placebo. All participants also receive standard of care for patients hospitalized with COVID-19, including the antiviral remdesivir. Five days after enrollment, participants’ clinical status is assessed based on an ordinal scale. If the investigational agent appears to be safe and effective based on an evaluation of the first 300 participants (stage 1), an additional 700 participants are randomized and followed for 90 days to assess sustained recovery, defined as being discharged, alive and home for 14 days (stage 2). Patients with end-stage organ failure are not enrolled in stage 1, but such patients are allowed to enroll if the trial proceeds to stage 2.

The first agent evaluated in ACTIV-3 was LY-CoV555. The monoclonal antibody was discovered by AbCellera Biologics, based in Vancouver, in collaboration with NIAID’s Vaccine Research Center. Subsequently, it was developed and manufactured by Indianapolis-based Lilly Research Laboratories, Eli Lilly and Company, in partnership with AbCellera.

The trial was closed to new enrollees on October 26, after the DSMB reviewed data from stage 1 of the trial and recommended that no further participants be randomized to receive LY-CoV555 and that the investigators be unblinded to the data. This recommendation was based on a low likelihood that the intervention would be of clinical value in this population of hospitalized patients without end-stage organ failure. Enrollment in the LY-CoV555 sub-study closed with 326 total participants, 314 of whom were randomized to receive either LY-CoV555 (163 participants) or placebo (151 participants). After five days, 50% of LY-CoV555 recipients and 54% of placebo recipients were in one of the two most favorable outcome categories. The investigators concluded that LY-CoV555 did not accelerate clinical improvement compared to placebo at day 5 using the ordinal scale among hospitalized COVID-19 patients without end-stage organ failure. Likewise, there was no difference in either time to hospital discharge or the primary outcome of sustained recovery, back at home for 14 days, among recipients of LY-CoV555 compared to placebo.

Although LY-CoV555 did not perform better than placebo in the hospitalized COVID-19 patients studied in this trial, this same investigational monoclonal antibody was granted an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in November. The EUA authorized use of LY-CoV555 in non-hospitalized adolescents and adults with mild to moderate COVID-19 symptoms who are at elevated risk of progressing to severe COVID-19 disease.

The ACTIV-3 trial is being conducted at hospitals worldwide that are part of existing clinical trials networks. The lead network, the International Network of Strategic Initiatives in Global HIV Trials (INSIGHT), is supported by NIAID. Collaborating clinical trial networks include the Prevention and Early Treatment of Acute Lung Injury network (PETAL) and Cardiothoracic Surgical Trials Network (CTSN), supported by the NIH’s National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute through the Collaborating Network of Networks for Evaluating COVID-19 and Therapeutic Strategies (CONNECTS) program, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Centers.

The principal investigator of ACTIV-3 is Jens Lundgren, M.D., of the University of Copenhagen and Rigshospitalet. Leads of the participating networks include James Neaton, Ph.D., of the INSIGHT network; Taylor Thompson, M.D., of the PETAL network; Annetine Gelijns, Ph.D., and Alan Moskowitz, M.D., of the CTSN; and Rachel Ramoni, D.M.D., Sc.D., of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Additional information about ACTIV-3 is available on clinicaltrials.gov under the identifier NCT04501978.

NIH neuroscientists isolate promising mini antibodies against COVID-19 from a llama

National Institutes of Health researchers have isolated a set of promising, tiny antibodies, or “nanobodies,” against SARS-CoV-2 that were produced by a llama named Cormac.

Scientists isolated nanobodies against COVID-19 from a llama named Cormac. Triple J Farms, Bellingham, Washington.

Preliminary results published in Scientific Reports suggest that at least one of these nanobodies, called NIH-CoVnb-112, could prevent infections and detect virus particles by grabbing hold of SARS-CoV-2 spike proteins. In addition, the nanobody appeared to work equally well in either liquid or aerosol form, suggesting it could remain effective after inhalation. SARS-CoV-2 is the virus that causes COVID-19.

The study was led by a pair of neuroscientists, Thomas J. “T.J.” Esparza, B.S., and David L. Brody, M.D., Ph.D., who work in a brain imaging lab at the NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).

“For years TJ and I had been testing out how to use nanobodies to improve brain imaging. When the pandemic broke, we thought this was a once in a lifetime, all-hands-on-deck situation and joined the fight,” said Dr. Brody, who is also a professor at Uniformed Services University for the Health Sciences and the senior author of the study. “We hope that these anti-COVID-19 nanobodies may be highly effective and versatile in combating the coronavirus pandemic.”

A nanobody is a special type of antibody naturally produced by the immune systems of camelids, a group of animals that includes camels, llamas, and alpacas. On average, these proteins are about a tenth the weight of most human antibodies. This is because nanobodies isolated in the lab are essentially free-floating versions of the tips of the arms of heavy chain proteins, which form the backbone of a typical Y-shaped human IgG antibody. These tips play a critical role in the immune system’s defenses by recognizing proteins on viruses, bacteria, and other invaders, also known as antigens.

Because nanobodies are more stable, less expensive to produce, and easier to engineer than typical antibodies, a growing body of researchers, including Mr. Esparza and Dr. Brody, have been using them for medical research. For instance, a few years ago scientists showed that humanized nanobodies may be more effective at treating an autoimmune form of thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura, a rare blood disorder, than current therapies.

“The SARS-CoV-2 spike protein acts like a key. It does this by opening the door to infections when it binds to a protein called the angiotensin converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) receptor, found on the surface of some cells,” said Mr. Esparza, who is also an employee of the Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine and the lead author of the study. “We developed a method that would isolate nanobodies that block infections by covering the teeth of the spike protein that bind to and unlock the ACE2 receptor.”

To do this, the researchers immunized Cormac five times over 28 days with a purified version of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. After testing hundreds of nanobodies they found that Cormac produced 13 nanobodies that might be strong candidates.

Initial experiments suggested that one candidate, called NIH-CoVnb-112, could work very well. Test tube studies showed that this nanobody bound to the ACE2 receptor 2 to 10 times stronger than nanobodies produced by other labs. Other experiments suggested that the NIH nanobody stuck directly to the ACE2 receptor binding portion of the spike protein.

Then the team showed that the NIH-CoVnB-112 nanobody could be effective at preventing coronavirus infections. To mimic the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the researchers genetically mutated a harmless “pseudovirus” so that it could use the spike protein to infect cells that have human ACE2 receptors. The researchers saw that relatively low levels of the NIH-CoVnb-112 nanobodies prevented the pseudovirus from infecting these cells in petri dishes.

Importantly, the researchers showed that the nanobody was equally effective in preventing the infections in petri dishes when it was sprayed through the kind of nebulizer, or inhaler, often used to help treat patients with asthma.

“One of the exciting things about nanobodies is that, unlike most regular antibodies, they can be aerosolized and inhaled to coat the lungs and airways,” said Dr. Brody.

The team has applied for a patent on the NIH-CoVnB-112 nanobody.

“Although we have a lot more work ahead of us, these results represent a promising first step,” said Mr. Esparza. “With support from the NIH we are quickly moving forward to test whether these nanobodies could be safe and effective preventative treatments for COVID-19. Collaborators are also working to find out whether they could be used for inexpensive and accurate testing.”

This study was supported by NIH Intramural Research Programs at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) and National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS); Dr. Brody is an employee of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. The views expressed here do not represent those of the Department of Defense.

Retractions and controversies over coronavirus research show that the process of science is working as it should

A high-profile paper on the risks of hyrdoxychloroquine was recently and rightfully retracted. AP Photo/John Locher,

Mark R. O’Brian, University at Buffalo, The State University of New York

Several high-profile papers on COVID-19 research have come under fire from people in the scientific community in recent weeks. Two articles addressing the safety of certain drugs when taken by COVID-19 patients were retracted, and researchers are calling for the retraction of a third paper that evaluated behaviors that mitigate coronavirus transmission.

Some people are viewing the retractions as an indictment of the scientific process. Certainly, the overturning of these papers is bad news, and there is plenty of blame to go around.

But despite these short-term setbacks, the scrutiny and subsequent correction of the papers actually show that science is working. Reporting of the pandemic is allowing people to see, many for the first time, the messy business of scientific progress.

Scientific community quickly responds to flawed research

In May, two papers were published on the safety of certain drugs for COVID-19 patients. The first, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, claimed that a particular heart medication was in fact safe for COVID-19 patients, despite previous concerns. The second, published in The Lancet, claimed that the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine increased the risk of death when used to treat COVID-19.

The Lancet paper caused the World Health Organization to briefly halt studies investigating hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19 treatment.

The paper published in The Lancet claimed that hydroxychloroquine increased risk of death in COVID-19 patients, but was retracted when other scientists discovered the data used for the study was unreliable. The Lancet/Mandeep R Mehra, Sapan S Desai, Frank Ruschitzka, Amit N Patel

Within days, over 200 scientists signed an open letter highly critical of the paper, noting that some of the findings were simply implausible. The database provided by the tiny company Surgisphere – whose website is no longer accessible – was unavailable during peer review of the paper or to scientists and the public afterwards, preventing anyone from evaluating the data. Finally, the letter suggested that it was unlikely this company was able to obtain the hospital records alleged to be in the database when no one else had access to this information.

By early June, both the Lancet and New England Journal of Medicine articles were retracted, citing concerns about the integrity of the database the researchers used in the studies. A retraction is the withdrawal of a published paper because the data underlying the major conclusions of the work are found to be seriously flawed. These flaws are sometimes, but not always, due to intentional scientific misconduct.

The urgency to find solutions to the COVID-19 pandemic certainly contributed to the publication of sloppy and possibly fraudulent science. The quality control measures that minimize the publication of bad science failed miserably in these cases.

Imperfect and iterative

The retraction of the hydroxychloroquine paper in particular drew immediate attention not only because it placed science in a bad light, but also because President Trump had touted the drug as an effective treatment for COVID-19 despite the lack of strong evidence.

Responses in the media were harsh. The New York Times declared that “The pandemic claims new victims: prestigious medical journals.” The Wall Street Journal accused the Lancet of “politicized science,” and the Los Angeles Times claimed that the retracted papers “contaminated global coronavirus research.”

These headlines may have merit, but perspective is also needed. Retractions are rare – only about 0.04% of published papers are withdrawn – but scrutiny, update and correction are common. It is how science is supposed to work, and it is happening in all areas of research relating to SARS-CoV-2.

Doctors have learned that the disease targets numerous organs, not just the lungs as was initially thought. Scientists are still working on understanding whether COVID-19 patients develop immunity to the disease. And to close the case on hydroxychloroquine, three new large studies published after the Lancet retraction indicate that the malaria drug is indeed ineffective in preventing or treating COVID-19.

Since the beginning of scientific publishing, peer review has helped weed out bad science, but public discourse between researchers has easily played as big a role. Public Domain

Science is self-correcting

Before a paper is published, it undergoes peer review by experts in the field who recommend to the journal editor whether it should be accepted for publication, rejected or reconsidered after modification. The reputation of the journal is dependent on high-quality peer review, and once a paper is published, it is in the public domain, where it can then be evaluated and judged by other scientists.

The publication of the Lancet and the New England Journal of Medicine papers failed at the level of peer review. But scrutiny by the scientific community – likely spurred on by the public spotlight on coronavirus research – caught the mistakes in record time.

The hydroxychloroquine article published in The Lancet was retracted only 13 days after it was published. By contrast, it took 12 years for the Lancet to retract the fraudulent article that incorrectly claimed vaccinations cause autism.

It is not yet known whether these papers involved deliberate scientific misconduct, but mistakes and corrections are common, even for top scientists. For example, Linus Pauling, who won the Nobel Prize for discovering the structure of proteins, later published an incorrect structure of DNA. It was subsequently corrected by Watson and Crick. Mistakes and corrections are a hallmark of progress, not foul play.

Importantly, these errors were exposed by other scientists. They were not uncovered by some policing body or watchdog group.

This back-and-forth between academics is foundational to science. There is no reason to believe that scientists are more virtuous than anyone else. Rather, the mundane human traits of curiosity, competitiveness, self-interest and reputation come into play before and after publication are what allow science to regulate itself. A model based on robust evidence emerges while the weaker one is abandoned.

Living with uncertainty

From high school classes and textbooks, science seems like a body of well-known facts and principles that are straightforward and incontrovertible. These sources view science in hindsight and often make discoveries seem inevitable, even dull.

In reality, scientists learn as they go. Uncertainty is inherent to the path of discovery, and success is not guaranteed. Only 14% of drugs and therapies that go through human clinical trials ultimately win FDA approval, with less than a 4% success rate for cancer drugs.

The process of science generally takes place below the radar of public awareness, and so this uncertainty is not generally in view. However, Americans are paying close attention to the COVID-19 pandemic, and many are, for the first time, seeing the sausage as it is being made.

Although the recent retractions may be unappetizing, medical science has been very successful over the long run. Smallpox has been eradicated, infections are treated with antibiotics rather than amputation and pain management during surgery has advanced well beyond biting on a stick.

The system is by no means perfect, but it is pretty darned good.

Mark R. O’Brian, Professor and Chair of Biochemistry, Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, University at Buffalo, The State University of New York

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Global scientific community unites to track progress on COVID-19 R&D, identifies new research priorities and critical gaps

The World Health Organization held a two half-day virtual summit on 1 and 2 July, to take stock of the evolving science on COVID-19 and examine progress made so far in developing effective health tools to improve the global response to the pandemic.

The event brought together researchers, developers and funders from all over the world, all of whom shared approaches and raw data freely, in a show of solidarity from the global science community. All major research institutes carrying out trials shared their data with a view to speeding up scientific discovery and implementation of solutions.

The group reviewed the latest data from the WHO Solidarity Trial and other completed and ongoing trials for potential therapeutics: hydroxychloroquine, lopinavir/ritonavir, remdesivir and dexamethasone. They agreed on the need for more trials to test antivirals, immunomodulatory drugs and anti-thrombotic agents, as well as combination therapies, at different stages of the disease.

The meeting analyzed 15 vaccine trial designs from different developers, and criteria for conducting robust trials to assess safety and efficacy of vaccine candidates. Participants discussed the use of a global, multi country, adaptive trial design, with a common DSMB, and clear criteria to advance candidates through the various stages of trials.

They noted that most internationally funded research projects have so far favoured high-income countries, with very few funded in low- and middle-income countries, highlighting the importance of the ACT-Accelerator Initiative to speed up the development and equitable deployment of COVID-19 tools.

More evidence is emerging that transmission from humans to animals is occurring, namely to felines (including tigers), dogs and minks.

The Summit hosted over 1000 researchers and scientists from all over the world and addressed the following topics:

  1. virus: natural history, transmission and diagnostics;
  2. animal and environmental research on the virus origin, and management measures at the human-animal interface;
  3. epidemiological studies;
  4. clinical characterization and management;
  5. infection prevention and control, including health care workers’ protection;
  6. candidate therapeutics R&D;
  7. candidate vaccines R&D;
  8. ethical considerations for research and;
  9. integrating social sciences in the outbreak response.

Unprecedented gathering of heads of government, institutions and industry cements commitment to accelerate development and delivery for all populations

Heads of state and global health leaders today made an unprecedented commitment to work together to accelerate the development and production of new vaccines, tests and treatments for COVID-19 and assure equitable access worldwide.

The COVID-19 pandemic has already affected more than 2.4 million people, killing over 160,000. It is taking a huge toll on families, societies, health systems and economies around the world, and for as long as this virus threatens any country, the entire world is at risk. 

There is an urgent need, therefore, while following existing measures to keep people physically distanced and to test and track all contacts of people who test positive, for innovative COVID-19 vaccines, diagnostics and treatments.

“We will only halt COVID-19 through solidarity,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “Countries, health partners, manufacturers, and the private sector must act together and ensure that the fruits of science and research can benefit everybody.”

Work has already started. Since January, WHO has been working with researchers from hundreds of institutions to develop and test vaccines, standardize assays and standardize regulatory approaches on innovative trial designs and define criteria to prioritize vaccine candidates.  The Organization has prequalified diagnostics that are being used all over the world, and more are in the pipeline. And it is coordinating a global trial to assess the safety and efficacy of four therapeutics against COVID-19.

The challenge is to speed up and harmonize processes to ensure that once products are deemed safe and effective, they can be brought to the billions of people in the world who need them. Past experience, in the early days of HIV treatment, for example, and in the deployment of vaccines against the H1N1 outbreak in 2009, shows that even when tools are available, they have not been equally available to all.

So today leaders came together at a virtual event, co-hosted by the World Health Organization, the President of France, the President of the European Commission, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The event was joined by the UN Secretary General, the AU Commission Chairperson, the G20 President, heads of state of France, South Africa, Germany, Vietnam, Costa Rica, Italy, Rwanda, Norway, Spain, Malaysia and the UK (represented by the First Secretary of State).

Health leaders from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), GAVI-the Vaccine Alliance, the Global Fund, UNITAID, the Wellcome Trust, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement (IFRC), the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers (IFPMA), the Developing Countries Vaccine Manufacturers’ Network (DCVMN), and the International Generic and Biosimilar Medicines Association (IGBA) committed to come together, guided by a common vision of a planet protected from human suffering and the devastating social and economic consequences of COVID-19, to launch this groundbreaking collaboration. They are joined by two Special Envoys:  Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Gavi Board Chair and Sir Andrew Witty, former CEO of GlaxoSmithKline.

They pledged to work towards equitable global access based on an unprecedented level of partnership. They agreed to create a strong unified voice, to build on past experience and to be accountable to the world, to communities and to one another.

“Our shared commitment is to ensure all people have access to all the tools to prevent, detect, treat and defeat COVID-19,” said Dr Tedros. “No country and no organization can do this alone. The Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator brings together the combined power of several organizations to work with speed and scale.”

Health leaders called on the global community and political leaders to support this landmark collaboration and for donors to provide the necessary resources to accelerate achievement of its objectives, capitalizing on the opportunity provided by a forthcoming pledging initiative that starts on 4 May 2020. This initiative, spearheaded by the European Union, aims to mobilize the significant resources needed to accelerate the work towards protecting the world from COVID-19.