The world must work together: Save the Children UK responds to DFID’s coronavirus announcement
Althea*, 1, wears a mask, during a hygiene distribution in the Philippines | Credit: Save The Children
Governments around the world are grappling with how best to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. Beyond the immediate health crisis, COVID-19 is hurting economic growth and driving vulnerable people into poverty and insecurity.
The consequences are in plain sight here in the UK. Our NHS and the heroic people who staff it are under enormous pressure. Government has responded to the economic crisis through emergency budgets but even with additional support, there are growing concerns over family poverty and even malnutrition.
In this unprecedented crisis, it would be all too easy to turn inwards.
That would be a mistake on two fronts. First, as the pandemic crisis deepens in the world’s poorest countries, our national values and our commitment to fairness demand a response. Second, if we fail to manage the pandemic in the poorest countries we run the risk of it returning to the UK in a second or even third wave.
That’s why I applaud the Development Secretary’s piece last week setting out a vision backed by a strategy for the UK’s global role in combating Covid-19. Without strengthened international cooperation, this is a battle we cannot win.
Here are some thoughts on how the UK can make a difference, with a fuller set of calls outlined in Protecting a Generation.
The immediate response
The secretary of state is right to call for a strong, coordinated and early response to help the most vulnerable countries. With the US threatening to cancel funding to the World Health Organisation, it has never been more important to mobilise at least $8billion in donor funds for a coherent and coordinated global plan led by the WHO. This plan must focus on building strong and resilient health and nutrition systems that are free at the point of use while engaging civil society, supporting government-led country strategies and prioritising marginalised and vulnerable populations.
As a global child rights organisation working in varying contexts, we know some of the most vulnerable children are in fragile and conflict-affected states. Active conflict, weak health systems, scarce clean water, and unhygienic conditions make it almost impossible to contain the outbreak. The UK can help by urgently pledging further financial and political support to the Global Humanitarian Response Plan for Covid-19 while continuing to support existing humanitarian response plans and the UN Secretary General’s call for a global ceasefire.
Solutions for everyone
As hosts of the Global Vaccine Summit this year, the UK will fully appreciate how important access to vaccines and new treatments will be in the fight against Covid-19. We welcome the strong commitment to GAVI. It is vital that critical services which support routine immunisation are supported and made equitably available to ensure that we don’t have secondary outbreaks of diseases we have seen diminish over the years.
Maternal and new-born services must be protected and enhanced, this should include supporting infant and young child feeding, immunisation, sexual and reproductive and maternal health services.
Closing financing gaps
The UK has been a progressive voice of debt relief and we welcome a step in the right direction at the G20 Spring meetings, but we believe the UK could go further to ensure that they are closing financial gaps. This includes ensuring that the ability of countries to protect citizens from the impacts of Covid-19 is not undermined by debt servicing requirements.
We also want to see the UK championing the case for a suspension of debt service payments from the poorest countries. These payments need to be converted into investments in testing kits, protective equipment, vital medical equipment, and health workers – and in the safety nets needed to keep millions of children out of poverty.
Leaving no one behind
The Government has put the Leave No One Behind principle at the centre of its response – and rightly so. We will only defeat this virus if we concentrate our support on the most vulnerable. Health impacts have fallen disproportionately on the poor. We know that the social and economic dislocation accompanying the pandemic have exacerbated poverty and inequality - these effects will be even more pronounced in the poorest countries.
We can ensure that the most vulnerable are protected by supporting health and nutrition services for all. As we confront Covid-19 we must be mindful of the additional vulnerabilities that malnutrition can cause. We must therefore prioritise nutrition investments, including ensuring that children and other nutritionally vulnerable groups can access appropriate, safe and nutritious food.
We welcome the UK’s additional £5million for Education Cannot Wait which, with partners like Save the Children, is adapting education programmes in 26 countries already affected by conflict and displacement to ensure the most marginalised children can access distance learning. The UK can continue to lead the way by calling on other bilateral donors to include and increase funding for education in their global response.
Sticking to principles
We applaud the Government’s commitment to equality on gender, inclusivity, human rights and international law. Here in the UK we know that lockdown has exposed many women and children to additional risks of violence. The same picture is emerging in developing countries. We also know from past health crises – including Ebola in West Africa – that it is often women and young girls who lose first and lose the most.
The Covid-19 crisis is also a potential crisis in the human rights of vulnerable people – and we must now do everything in our power to defend those rights.
Building back better and thinking long-term from the start
One of the challenges we all face as we confront the crisis is to link our response to the emergency to a strategy for recovery. Covid-19 has exposed many of the fault-lines in the policies of governments around the world. Hopefully, the idea that universal health coverage is just too expensive will now be consigned to the dustbin of history as governments reflect on the social, economic and human costs of under-investing in health.
Covid-19 has also delivered a tough lesson in the merits of international cooperation. This is a crisis that could have been contained had multilateral institutions been strong enough and properly financed. While a severe economic shock may have been inevitable, more could have been done to set the scene for recovery and protect the vulnerable through coordinated policies – and by expanding the resources available to the IMF and World Bank.
In these and other cases the take home lesson is that we are stronger together – and that international cooperation is more important than ever to manage our globalised world.