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Ukraine to Benefit from WHO Pandemic Relief Efforts

Scott Ghiringhelli


The COVID-19 pandemic that spread throughout the world this past year is a global problem best addressed through existing international organizations and agreements. Allowing the health and economic well-being of vulnerable countries like Ukraine to suffer is not only an ethical concern, it will have negative impacts on nations of all economic status. The World Health Organization (WHO) is working to address the pandemic globally and equitably.

Ukraine has suffered destabilization along its eastern border since the annexation of Crimea and start of the Donbas conflict in 2014. The COVID-19 pandemic, which has overwhelmed health care systems and devastated economies globally, has been particularly hard on more vulnerable populations, such as the approximately 1.5 million displaced Ukrainians, the ninth largest population of internally displaced people (IDPs) in the world, according to the UN. The UN has also noted that in the wake of the pandemic, Ukraine is experiencing one of its worst recessions in recent history, and suffers major economic, health care, and social challenges.

In late 2019, WHO transferred equipment for a rapid and low-cost virus testing technique, known as polymerase chain reaction (PCR), to the local laboratories in eastern Ukraine. The technique, which is used to amplify small segments of DNA, arrived just ahead of the pandemic and became widely used for COVID-19 testing. Since then, WHO has worked to address the pandemic globally on a much larger scale.

On April 24, 2020, WHO hosted the launch of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator. One of its pillars is the COVAX Facility, created to accelerate the development, production, and equitable access to COVID-19 diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines. Within the accelerator, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations (GAVI), the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), and WHO, together with multinational and developing country vaccine manufacturers, are working to provide cooperating governments the opportunity to benefit from a large portfolio of COVID-19 candidate vaccines. The scale-up of vaccine production around the world not only helps address the pandemic globally but also incentivizes vaccine manufacturers by lessening financial risk. The COVAX Facility plans to secure two billion doses by the end of 2021, and it has signed a memorandum of understanding with AstraZeneca, manufacturer of one of the top vaccine candidates, committing to 300 million doses. Prime candidates are those most accessible and easily scaled up for manufacturing. The COVAX portfolio includes many of the vaccine candidates for which Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) has been sought in the United States, UK, EU, and with WHO, including Pfizer’s-BioNTech vaccine, which has been approved for emergency use in the UK and the United States, and the Moderna vaccine, one of nine CEPI-supported vaccine candidates, most recently approved for emergency use in the United States.

Mirroring WHO efforts to accelerate the development and production of COVID-19 vaccines, the Trump administration announced Operation Warp Speed (OWS) on May 15, 2020, three weeks after the launch of the COVAX Facility. Similar to the COVAX Facility, OWS’s goal is to accelerate the development, production, and distribution of safe and effective vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics to counter COVID-19 by January 2021. Shortly after signaling its intent to withdraw from WHO in July 202, the Trump administration stated in September that it would not join the almost 200 countries participating in the COVAX Facility in a global effort to develop, manufacture, and equitably distribute a coronavirus vaccine.

WHO efforts to address the impacts of COVID-19 in countries like Ukraine support UN Global Goal 10, focused on reducing inequalities, and Global Goal 16, which promotes peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development. But even beyond assisting more vulnerable countries, WHO director-general Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus believes that a global approach to the pandemic will ultimately benefit all nations.

“In our interconnected world, if people in low- and middle-income countries miss out on vaccines, the virus will continue to kill and the economic recovery globally will be delayed. So, using vaccines as a global public good is in the national interest of each and every country. Vaccine nationalism will prolong the pandemic, not shorten it,” he said during opening remarks at a September 4, 2020, WHO media briefing on COVID-19.

WHO experts, working together with the WHO Country Office in Ukraine and the Public Health Center of the Ministry of Health, visited COVID-19-dedicated hospitals in November and December 2020 to reinforce infection prevention and control programs. Once a vaccine is available through the COVAX Facility, low- and lower-middle-income economies like Ukraine will benefit from a guaranteed allocation of vaccine doses.

The opinions expressed in this article are those solely of the authors and do not reflect the views of the Kennan Institute.

About the Author

Scott Ghiringhelli

Scott Ghiringhelli

Public Affairs Specialist, US federal government

Scott Ghiringhelli works as a Public Affairs Specialist for the US federal government in the National Capital Region of Washington, D.C. He also serves as the communications liaison on the Peace and Security Committee with the United Nations Association of the National Capital Area (UNA-NCA).

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Kennan Institute

The Kennan Institute is the premier U.S. center for advanced research on Russia and Eurasia and the oldest and largest regional program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The Kennan Institute is committed to improving American understanding of Russia, Ukraine, and the region through research and exchange.  Read more