How STOPAIDS is working on the COVID-19 Response in 2021
STOPAIDS members stand in solidarity with all those affected by the COVID-19 crisis. The pandemic continues to escalate globally and, with it, the understanding that COVID-19 is not affecting everyone equally. We are concerned that widespread fear and uncertainty about COVID-19 could inadvertently lead to actions that do harm, especially to the most marginalised and vulnerable populations, and could cause governments to focus inwards, at the expense of critical international collaboration.
As an organisation that has played a critical role in the global HIV response over the last two decades, and as host for the Action for Global Health UK network, we have consulted with our members and put forward five principles that must guide decision makers – globally and here in the UK – throughout the COVID-19 response.
- Leave No One Behind. An inclusive global response that prioritises the most marginalised and vulnerable populations is critical. The response must recognise the intersectional inequalities, including, but not exclusively, poverty, health status, geography, age, race, sexual orientation and gender identity, that will drive vulnerability to the impact of COVID-19, and ensure that any data used and gathered is disaggregated to reflect this and enable a targeted response.
- A Rights-based Approach. We must ensure that everybody’s human rights are realised and upheld. Stigma, discrimination, undue or un-evidenced restrictions and harmful criminal sanctions and policy environments threaten our ability to realise the right to health for all. Additionally, public health must take precedence over private profit and leaders must be willing to take strong political action to achieve this.
- Universal Health Coverage. We need strong, fully resourced and resilient health systems everywhere, with a healthy workforce and equitable access to diagnostics, vaccines, medicines, in order to be able to respond to COVID-19 and ongoing pandemics. Primary health care provision must be a high priority for governments as health systems react to, and recover from the impact of COVID-19. At a minimum, health systems in crisis must still be equipped to prevent and treat HIV and TB, and have a coordinated plan to protect comprehensive HIV and TB prevention, treatment, psycho-social support and care services as soon as possible after the COVID-19 crisis.
- Meaningful Community and Civil Society Engagement. We must enable and resource affected communities and civil society to be meaningfully involved in the planning, delivery, monitoring and evaluation of the COVID-19 response – and ensure that they have the information and equipment that they need to protect themselves. Core as well as project funding for community organisations is fundamental to maintaining and building new trusted support links within marginalised populations and sustaining their vital peer support networks.
- International Solidarity. We call for the international community to work more closely together across borders, not further apart. In particular, the WHO must play a leading role in strengthening international coordination. Countries should be wary of new measures that promote isolationism, such as limiting medicine exports.
STOPAIDS will continue to facilitate discussions amongst our members to help members to adapt to the ongoing crisis and its impact.
Over the past year we have been contributing to the COVID-19 response in the following ways:
Supporting advocacy for COVID-19 response financing
The financial implications of COVID-19 have been devastating both domestically and globally. As well as impacting and shrinking national economies the pandemic has exacerbated and created financing gaps in the response of existing epidemics, like HIV and for the COVID-19 response itself.
In 2020, The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria identified that it would require an additional $6 billion on top of what was raised at the Sixth Replenishment to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on the three diseases and play its role in the international COVID-19 response through the Access to COVID-19 Tools – Accelerator (ACT-A), a new partnership between existing health multilaterals and governments (further information about the ACT-A can be found below)
The ACT-A comprises pillars of organisations working together to create and distribute COVID-19 diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines. The Global Fund is a core partner of both the diagnostics and health systems strengthening pillars and is also supporting the therapeutics pillar of the ACT-A. It has created the COVID-19 Response Mechanism to manage and distribute these additional funds.
The total financial need for ACT-A is much greater, the original required budget totalled $38 billion but this has recently been revised and slightly lowered but the Global Fund’s required share remains the same, and remains chronically underfunded.
In the context of the UK’s own economic downturn the UK Government has announced its intention to cut UK Aid from 0.7% to 0.5% of Gross National Income. STOPAIDS has spoken out against these cuts which would represent around a £4 billion cut to the aid budget this year and require a change in legislation to come into effect and is supporting Youth Stop AIDS campaigners to actively mobilise against the cuts.
Against this concerning backdrop STOPAIDS has been advocating to achieve two key objectives:
- The UK’s pledge to the Sixth Replenishment of the Global Fund is protected and disbursed as planned, in line with the original timeline.
- The UK steps up with additional funds to the Global Fund’s COVID-19 Response Mechanism.
The UK government has given funds to elements of ACT-A since its creation, which we welcome, but so far in the majority these have been to the vaccines pillar, COAX, and not equitably distributed across the pillars. STOPAIDS, and indeed many in the international community, recognise that vaccines alone will not bring the end of the pandemic and that equal investment in therapeutics and diagnostics is required. Across the ACT-A it is COVAX that has attracted the greatest investments from all governments while the other pillars lag behind.
Supporting civil society and community engagement in COVID-19 response governance
In June 2020, the civil society and community representatives to the Boards of Global Fund, Unitaid, Gavi and Civil Society Engagement Mechanism of UHC2030 (CSEM)) advocated for formal representation of communities and civil society in each pillar and workstream as well as the Facilitation Council. A copy of the letters, and the response from the ACT-A organisations can be found here: https://www.globalfundadvocatesnetwork.org/tools-for-advocacy/covid-19-resources/act-accelerator-act-a/
Term representatives have been appointed to the diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines pillars as well as the Facilitation Council of ACT-A. There is an ongoing nomination process to identify representatives to the Health Systems Connector (February 2021). Representatives and their contact information can be found: http://covid19advocacy.org/
The Platform for Community and Civil Society Representatives in ACT-A
Building on leadership already shown in these early months by generating civil society and community engagement and representation in ACT-A, Global Fund Advocates Network (GFAN), WACI Health and STOPAIDS established the Platform for Community and Civil Society Representatives in ACT-A (the Platform) to:
- convene and support the identified civil society and community representatives in ACT-A and
- provide a platform for engagement for broader civil society and communities with ACT-A civil society and communities representatives; facilitate broader, global collaboration by bringing the expertise in civil society and communities to inform the work of the representatives in ACT-A; and provide a space for information sharing, consultation and cohesive action and advocacy.
Further information about the platform can be found: http://covid19advocacy.org/
If you would like to receive updates from the platform, please sign up to the mailing list here: firstname.lastname@example.org
The platform also hosts public calls to provide updates on ACT-A to the broader health community. Recordings can be found here: http://covid19advocacy.org/calls-details-and-notes/ Details of future calls will be shared on the platform website and mailing list.
Ensuring equitable and affordable access to COVID-19 health technologies
Through our Missing Medicines Coalition, STOPAIDS coordinates UK civil society advocacy to ensure timely and equitable global access to COVID-19 vaccines and other technologies. We are also active members of the international People’s Vaccine Alliance.
We know from the history of the HIV response that exclusive intellectual property rights can create highly inequitable access with catastrophic consequences. We must learn from the mistakes that have been made in the past. Unfortunately, we are now witnessing ‘vaccine aparehtid’ with projections showing that most lower income countries will not achieve mass Covid-19 immunisation until at least 2023, and some may never get there.
We need pharmaceutical companies to share their intellectual property rights and their know-how for producing these vaccines to allow greater collaboration in research, and the scale-up in manufacturing capacity required to meet global demand. Public health driven proposals such as the WHO’s COVID-19 Technology Access Pool and the proposed World Trade Organisation ‘TRIPS Waiver’ will help this to happen, and will also make products more affordable by enabling generic competition to help drive down prices.
To find out more and join the growing movement demanding a People’s Vaccine, please message James Cole on email@example.com .
Furthermore, many of our members have issued important statements to respond to the COVID-19 crisis, including:
- Cricket Without Boundaries
- Grassroot Soccer
- HIV Justice Network
- International Partnership for Microbicides
- Just Treatment
- Positively UK
- VSO International
- World Vision
Keep an eye on our social media and our website for further updates. In the meantime, here are some actions that you can take and some readings that may be of use:
- Take Action! Email your MP and ask them to vote down any attempt to reduce the UK’s aid commitment from 0.7% to 0.5% of Gross National Income as part of Youth Stop AIDS #StepUpForHIV Campaign.
- STOPAIDS gave both oral and written evidence to the ongoing International Development Committee Inquiry on the Secondary Impacts of the COVID-19 response, highlighting the impact on the HIV response – Read our written submission here and the latest Committee report here.
- STOPAIDS gave both oral and written evidence to the recent All Party Parliamentary Group on HIV and AIDS Inquiry in to HIV and COVID-19 – Read their report here.
- Take Action! Write to the UK Government to support the World Trade Organisation proposal to suspend patent rules during the pandemic. This will help bring down prices and allow us to produce mass quantities of vaccines and treatments.
- Take Action! Sign the petition to call on the UK government to ensure that any vaccine developed with public money is made affordable to the NHS as well as lower-income countries. And urge them to work globally so that any vaccine reaches the most vulnerable everywhere.
- Take Action! Email the health secretary’s office today to ask Matt Hancock to publicly welcome and commit to supporting the proposal for a Covid-19 global mechanism for all countries to get access to affordable testing, treatment and vaccines.
Coronavirus (COVID-19) Useful Resources
- The Global Fund regularly publishes Situation Reports and has a host of resources available on its website.
- UNAIDS has a host of resources and information available on its website which are regularly updated.
- FCAA has created a COVID-19 resource page including funder responses, philanthropic and HIV-related resources.
- NAM has a range of resources on their website on COVID-19 and living with HIV, including a recording of aidsmapLIVE – Special: COVID-19 vaccines.
- i-Base has created a COVID-19 page including links to i-Base articles and posts about the new coronavirus and COVID-19.
- BOND has produced a resource page to help you decide what steps your organisations should take to stay safe.
- AVERT has created a COVID-19 section on their website to talk you through everything you need to know about COVID-19 and the impact on people living with HIV. https://www.avert.org/coronavirus
- UNAIDS has released an infographic illustrating the lessons from HIV for an effective, community-led response to COVID-19. Find the infographic here.
- National AIDS Trust has pulled together the latest information on coronavirus for people living with HIV and it’s being updated regularly as new information becomes available. https://www.nat.org.uk/coronavirus-hiv
- BHIVA has produced advice on HIV and Coronavirus (COVID-19) which can be found on their website here.
- Frontline AIDS has developed this technical brief to provide people living with HIV, their caregivers and organisations supporting them with basic guidance on COVID-19.
- The 23rd International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2020), was held virtually on 6-10 July 2020. A recording of the conference sessions can be found here.
- HIV 2020 was held online and a recording of the conference sessions can be found here.
Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A)
The Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A), is a collaboration to accelerate development, production, and equitable access to COVID-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines.
The ACT-A was launched in April 2020 and includes:
- four main pillars of work –
- Vaccines (co-convenors: CEPI, Gavi & WHO)
- Therapeutics (co-convenors: Wellcome Trust & Unitaid)
- Diagnostics (co-convenors: FIND & Global Fund)
- Health Systems Connector (co-conveners: the World Bank & Global Fund)
- a crosscutting access and allocation workstream (led by WHO) to develop the principles, framework and mechanisms needed to ensure the fair and equitable allocation of these tools
- the Facilitation Council (supported by a small secretariat/coordination hub at WHO) responsible for the overarching coordination of ACT-Accelerator
More information on ACT-A can be found: https://www.who.int/initiatives/act-accelerator