Gordon Brown leads calls for $60bn of Covid support for poor countries

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A campaign, spearheaded by former prime minister Gordon Brown has been launched to persuade the UK-hosted G7 summit to fund a $60bn two-year vaccine and healthcare support package for poor countries.

Leaders of the west’s leading economies are being urged to invest a fraction of the sums spent fighting Covid-19 domestically to help finance rapid immunisation programmes and the wider health response to the virus in less well-off countries, to check the virus’s global spread.

“We have got to take action to get money into poor countries,” Brown said. “Nobody is safe until everybody is safe. The only way to get the guaranteed financing for health is to get some burden sharing. It is not good enough to have a glorified whip-round.”

Brown is one of a number of global figures behind the campaign. It also includes Graça Machel, the advocate for women and children’s rights, and Winnie Byanyima, the director of UNAids.

The former prime minister said the crisis in India demonstrated the futility of rich countries trying to insulate themselves from the pandemic, and more generous funding of the global immunisation programme would pay off many times over.

Global health is a key item on the agenda when the G7 – which includes the UK, US, Germany, France, Italy, Canada and Japan – meets in Cornwall in mid-June. Brown said the summit should commit to ensuring poor countries were vaccinated and supported to get access to vital therapeutic and diagnostic equipment. He also wants the G7 to use its financial muscle at the World Bank and the IMF to finance wider support for health workers and hospitals in poor countries.

Vaccination rates vary enormously around the world. In high-income countries, one in four people have been vaccinated compared with one in 500 in low-income countries. In the UK and the US, more than half the population has had at least one dose. Fewer than 10% of people in India have had a jab. Many frontline health workers globally have not had a single shot.

Some G7 countries including the UK, US and Germany have contributed to Covax – the global initiative aimed at equitable access to Covid vaccines – but Brown said there was still a funding shortfall.

Campaign groups and aid charities are being mobilised through an umbrella group of climate, development and environment agencies – Crack the Crises – in the hope of repeating the gains of Make Poverty History, which successfully lobbied the Gleneagles G8 summit in 2005 for debt relief and a doubling of aid.

Jamie Drummond, the co-founder of the campaign group One and a driving force behind Crack the Crisis, said: “At this G7 our prime minster [Boris Johnson] can and must channel any Churchillian instincts he aspires to have, rise to the history of the moment and get agreed a clear global roadmap for vaccines coverage victory, with the G7 countries paying their fair share, sharing excess doses and sharing rights to scale vaccine production sustainably.

“This isn’t simply morally right. Economists and epidemiologists concur that frontloading the finance to deliver global vaccines coverage is the smartest investment ever on offer – saving tens of trillions of pounds, millions of lives and years of misery and uncertainty for citizens in the UK and the world over.”

Meanwhile, lobbying of G7 leaders is expected to intensify over coming weeks, with an international petition demanding action already signed by 1.5 million people. [The Guardian]