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What coronavirus? At the United Nations General Assembly, war eclipses the pandemic.

This week, the leader of the free world declared the pandemic “over”. President Biden made the remarks during an interview with “60 Minutes” that aired on Sunday. His remarks surprised White House officials, who quickly tried to push them back, fearing they would impact the administration’s push for increased pandemic funding.

As world leaders gathered in New York this week for the opening of the United Nations General Assembly, you must have wondered if Biden was right. This year’s opening week is the first to be held entirely in person since the pandemic began. The event was fully virtual in 2020 and hybrid in 2021.

Biden’s claim that ‘the pandemic is over’ complicates efforts to secure funding

There was even a tangible sign this week of a new post-pandemic era: the traditional traffic jam that plagues downtown Manhattan during “UNGA week” was back. The talking points had also changed: As recently as last year, covid-19 dominated the conversation, with Biden himself hosting a simultaneous summit on global vaccine efforts and pledging to vaccinate 70% of 8 billion people in the world over the next year. .

But this year things are different, but not necessarily in a positive way. The international community has gone from pandemic – but to war and general chaos.

The February 24 invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces continues to send economic and political shock waves, with Moscow this week calling for a “partial” mobilization and issuing thinly veiled nuclear threats. A violent crackdown in Iran has cast doubt on any diplomatic progress that could be made on Tehran’s nuclear weapons.

Other conflicts have erupted in Ethiopia and along the Armenia-Azerbaijan border, while Washington and Beijing remain at odds. Meanwhile, the global economy is teetering on the brink and the death this month of Queen Elizabeth II has diverted much of the world’s attention.

The pandemic has been all but forgotten at the United Nations – and last year’s promises have not been kept. When Biden addressed the General Assembly last year, he said the words “covid-19” 10 times and “pandemic” six times. This year he has instead focused on fighting Russia and other authoritarian states, saying “covid-19” just three times and mentioning “pandemic” only once.

Biden at UN says Russia’s actions ‘should make your blood run cold’

Biden missed his own stated goal for global vaccinations. Advocacy groups said less than one in five people in low-income countries were fully vaccinated, while 56% of people in lower-middle-income countries had reached the target.

“Our failure to equitably deploy vaccines is a resounding global failure – a failure that has cost lives and livelihoods, and resulted in waves of variants that have prolonged the pandemic for us all,” said Tom Hart, President. of the ONE campaign. statement.

There were also less heralded developments. Most notably, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria raised $14.25 billion on Wednesday at its seventh replenishment conference. The event, hosted by Biden, brought the country one step closer to its $18 billion goal for the next three years.

There were also discussions about preparing for the next pandemic. On Thursday, I moderated a panel co-sponsored by a South Africa-based mRNA Technology and Training Center supported by the World Health Organization. The hub aims to start a global network of vaccine research sites in developing countries.

The idea is that the hub would form other sites, or “spokes”, so that when the world faces its next pandemic, wealthier names cannot hoard vaccine supplies. In this effort, there have been some early signs of success.

South African company Afrigen Biologics, which works at the hub, is already testing a potential coronavirus vaccine. He also began work on a tuberculosis vaccine.

“We have been approached by leading scientists in the HIV community,” said Petro Terblanch, executive director of Afrigen, at the conference, co-hosted by advocacy group Public Citizen.

HIV is one of many diseases that experts hope can be eradicated with an mRNA vaccine.

Soumya Swaminathan, chief scientist at the WHO, has admitted hubs may not have a significant impact on the covid-19 pandemic – Afrigen’s vaccine could still be years away from hitting the market – but that the system had to be put in place now for the future. “The only way to solve this problem is to take a longer-term view, not a quick fix,” she said.

The problem is that governments around the world aren’t always good at taking a long-term view. Britain has long been a leader in health funding but stunned onlookers on Wednesday when officials failed to pledge new funds at Biden’s Global Fund replenishment event. Under new Prime Minister Liz Truss, Britain has dramatically cut its aid budgets.

David Lammy, a member of the British opposition, noted that the country had pledged at least $2.6 billion in military aid to Ukraine in 2023. Countries that needed help would surely be aware of this too, he told the Guardian. “In the past I have said that British foreign policy has become too transactional, but it’s not even transactional. It’s just poorly thought out,” he said.

Meanwhile, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol caused a minor diplomatic scandal when he spoke an undiplomatic truth at the Biden event: the US president’s pledge of $6 billion in AIDS funding. , tuberculosis and malaria might not pass Congress.

“It would be so humiliating for Biden if those idiots didn’t pass him in Congress,” Yoon told a group of aides.

But even without Congress as a hurdle, the United States has yet to fund the mRNA hubs project, which has the potential to have a major impact at a modest price. Instead, it supports the hub through technical assistance.

The South African hub expects it to need around $100m in funding over the next four years, with just $67m raised so far.

For the project, that $34 million shortfall is a lot of money, but it’s also about half the cost of an F-35 fighter jet. And that’s just a fraction of the billions in military aid the United States has promised Ukraine this year.

washingtonpost Gt

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