This pandemic is a stark reminder of just how interconnected our world has become. To keep our citizens safe and healthy, we must defeat COVID-19 wherever it is found.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, May 28, 2020.
It’s good to hear Prime Minister Trudeau speak this truth. As much as we want to focus on the effects of this crisis on people at home, a pandemic is global by nature. No one will be safe until everyone is safe.
So how do we defeat COVID-19 everywhere?
We use our Research & Development.
We stop collecting debt payments from poor countries.
Obviously, it is not that simple. Finding a vaccine is tough. The good news is that there is an unprecedented effort by scientists around the world to find one in record speed and many think it should be possible within 1-2 years.
But finding a vaccine that works is just the first step. We also need to invest in production so that we can create billions of doses and distribute them around the world. The same goes for potential new treatments and tests. We can only end this pandemic when we are all healthy and safe.
To do this at the speed and scale needed, countries needs to coordinate their efforts and put their investments together. It’s great to hear our Prime Minister leading the call for a global response, but the Government of Canada now needs to walk the talk.
Invest 1% in the global emergency response
So far, our government acted with speed to protect Canadians against COVID-19 and the massive economic impact of the crisis. From March until May, COVID-19 cost the federal government $146 billion.
But only about 0.13% of this was invested to help the world.
This is a crisis that is fundamentally global. What if we increased our investment to just 1% to help the world fight COVID-19? As Canadians, we’d still spend 99% of our investments at home, but we would have a better chance to end the pandemic for good.
There are two urgent places to invest. The first is the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, an initiative of global health organizations which provides equal access to “innovative COVID-19 diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines … in record time and at record scale and access — to save millions of lives and countless trillions of dollars.”
At the launch of the Global Coronavirus Response Initiative on May 4th, the Prime Minister highlighted $850 million of previously-announced funds, almost entirely for domestic R&D. To help the world, we need to place more investments into the ACT Accelerator partners. This will help coordinate research and manufacturing efforts and deliver the vaccines and treatments to countries that need them the most. We cannot allow vaccine hoarding to happen, and we definitely don’t want to be guilty of it ourselves!
We should also invest in addressing the humanitarian crisis that is growing out of this health crisis. The World Food Programme warned the world that 130 million more people will face starvation because of COVID-19. Humanitarian organizations like the many Canadian NGOs working on the ground, urgently need more help.
If we invest just 1% of our response to COVID-19 to help the world, we can support the ACT Accelerator partnership ($1.2 billion) and the humanitarian crisis ($300 million).
Align R&D investments in Canada with the goals of global and equitable access
The federal government already invested $1.3 billion in Canadian research institutions and biotech firms to help them develop COVID-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines.
Some of these funds were highlighted by the Prime Minister when he talked about the global response. But, we need to make sure that this research isn’t hoarded or only given to people who can afford inflated prices. Researchers receiving public funds should be required to share their data, technologies, and results in real time with international partners.
If researchers are using Canadian tax dollars, the final products should be affordable and accessible to everyone who needs them — whether in Canada or around the world. At this stage, it is not clear if any of the recipients of public funds are required to do this. Canada can lead the world out of this pandemic by insisting that our research is transparent and accessible.
Use Canada’s influence to push for more debt relief
In April, the G20 reached an agreement to suspend bilateral debt payments (those that are owed to governments) for 73 developing countries until the end of 2020.
This was an important first step, but to free up enough resources for countries to face the COVID-19 health and economic crisis, this should be expanded to at least 2021. Multilateral institutions like the IMF and the World Bank should also provide more debt relief, and so should private creditors, like commercial banks.
When the pandemic reached Canada, the Government quickly moved to postpone debt here at home. We should provide the same flexibility to countries who need their own tax resources to fight COVID-19.
Canada must be a strong voice in favor of developing countries and be ready to commit investments to the IMF and World Bank to make multilateral debt relief possible.
We will put our best scientific minds on finding a vaccine, treatments, and the most effective testing methods. We need to keep our eyes on the big picture. This is not just a domestic crisis. The only way we end COVID-19 is if we end it everywhere.