LONDON: Saudi Arabia has joined countries from around the world in pledging money to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance (GAVI) at its Global Vaccine Summit 2020 in London.
This year’s summit was held virtually for the first time, as it focused on the threat from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and the need to develop a vaccine for the virus responsible for the pandemic that has shut down much of the globe, as well as claiming the lives of more than 380,000 people.
The summit was opened with a brief speech from UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who was hospitalized in April with the disease and has since made a full recovery.
Introductory addresses were also given by Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization; Moussa Faki Mahamat, chair of the African Union; and Antonio Guterres, secretary-general of the UN.
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The Kingdom, which pledged $150 million to help fund GAVI’s work, was represented by Minister of Foreign Affairs Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud, who thanked the UK government and Johnson for hosting the summit, on behalf of Saudi Arabia’s King Salman. He praised GAVI for its “noble” work in reducing the “dangers of epidemics” and saving lives.
“Now, more than ever, we must remain united,” Prince Faisal told the summit. “In 2016, the Kingdom contributed $25 million to support the efforts of GAVI and its mission. I would like to reiterate the message of King Salman that the preservation of human health is at the forefront of the Kingdom’s priorities.
“Based on its Islamic and humanitarian values, Saudi Arabia has provided over $86 billion in aid throughout the last three decades; these funds provided support to over 81 countries to assist them in improving livelihoods and health care,” he said. “In March this year, Saudi Arabia called for an Extraordinary Virtual Leaders Summit of the G20, chaired by King Salman, to coordinate the international response to combat the spread of COVID-19.”
Prince Faisal said that the Kingdom is also taking a lead in financing the world’s response to COVID-19.
“During this summit, Saudi Arabia announced a contribution of $500 million in support of global efforts to prevent the spread of the virus and enhance preparedness and emergency responses. Of this amount, I am pleased to announce the allocation of $150 million for vaccines and immunizations that will support the great efforts of your alliance,” he said.
“To achieve stability and prosperity for future generations, it is our collective responsibility to contribute and support the noble cause of preserving and protecting human life.”
GAVI, a major beneficiary of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, aims to raise at least $7.4 billion this year from governments and elsewhere in an effort to help improve global public health through a raft of ambitious vaccine programs, made all the more pressing by the emergence of COVID-19.
The summit was addressed by heads of state from across the world, including France, Japan, India and Canada. US President Donald Trump sent a short recorded message wishing GAVI success, while Bill Gates also gave a speech in which he suggested the coronavirus crisis had forced the hand of the international community.
“We’re meeting at a unique time in history. Never have more people been more aware of the importance of vaccines,” he said.
“As we race to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, we must also renew our commitment to delivering every life-saving vaccine there is, to every child on earth. That is the work that GAVI and alliance partners have been doing for 20 years — when we come together to support GAVI replenishment, we’re making sure that it can continue to do these things until no child dies from a vaccine-preventable disease.”
Gates added: “Since its inception, GAVI has helped vaccinate more than three quarters of a billion children. It has incentivized researchers; it has made new vaccines widely available. And now it’s stepping up and saying it’s willing to deliver a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as one is available, to end the pandemic as soon as possible. If we didn’t already have GAVI, we would have to create it just to solve this crisis.”
The Kingdom was not the only Arab country to contribute at the summit. Jordan’s King Abdullah also addressed the forum from Amman, warning that the international community could afford to leave no country behind in the response to COVID-19, and highlighting the need to protect vulnerable people, especially those forced from their homes by conflict.
“It is our responsibility as an international community to make sure the most vulnerable are not left behind,” he said. “In my region, many are internally displaced or live as refugees. Jordan alone holds 1.3 million Syrian refugees and others. It is a priority for us to afford them the same care we give Jordanians.”
Reem Al-Hashimy, UAE minister for international cooperation, praised GAVI for the “timely” summit, and its history of improving the lives of people around the world, highlighting the work of the alliance in keeping vaccines available and accessible for those least able to afford health care.
“Now more than ever we recognize the indispensable role GAVI plays,” she said. “The UAE and GAVI have been strong partners working together for many years. I take this opportunity to reaffirm my country’s commitment to freeing the next generation from disease, and creating a healthier, more prosperous world.”