The Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-Accelerator) is a global coalition of organisations developing and deploying the new diagnostics, treatments and vaccines needed to end the acute phase of the pandemic.
The ACT-Accelerator partnership was formed at the onset of the pandemic in response to a call from G20 leaders, and was launched in April 2020. Critical funding for the effort comes from an unprecedented mobilisation of donors, including countries, the private sector, philanthropists and multilateral partners.
The ACT-Accelerator has four areas of work, or pillars:
- A diagnostics pillar, co-convened by FIND and the Global Fund, with support from UNITAID, UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO)
- A therapeutics pillar, co-convened by Wellcome and UNITAID, with support from the WHO, UNICEF and the Global Fund
- A vaccines pillar, COVAX, led by CEPI, Gavi and the WHO, and implementing partner UNICEF
- A health systems connector, led by the World Bank, Global Fund and the WHO.
The therapeutics pillar has been of core interest to the industrial gases business given its focus on the provision of medical oxygen, and was a key protagonist in the establishment of the COVID-19 Oxygen Emergency Taskforce activated to assess and address Covid-19 surges in demand to cut preventable deaths.
As part of this, the pillar brokered an agreement for the world’s largest medical oxygen suppliers – Air Liquide and Linde – to collaborate with ACT-Accelerator partners on increased access to oxygen in low and lower-middle-income countries (LMICs).
A WHO news release yesterday (16th August) explained that the ACT Accelerator’s work is more vital than ever, however, as new variants of the virus threaten to resist current Covid-19 tools, and the need for urgent funding is paramount.
With more COVID-19 cases reported in the first five months of 2021 than in the whole of 2020, the world is still in the acute phase of the pandemic, it underlined – despite high vaccination rates in some countries protecting populations from severe disease and death.
Inadequate testing and low vaccination rates are exacerbating disease transmission and overwhelming local health systems, while leaving the whole world vulnerable to new variants. While four variants of concern currently dominate the epidemiology, there are fears that new, and possibly more dangerous, variants of concern may emerge.
Many countries are experiencing new waves of infections and, while many high-income countries and some upper-middle-income countries have implemented widespread vaccinations, put more robust testing systems in place, and made treatments increasingly available, many low and middle-income countries (LMICs) are struggling to access these vital tools due to a lack of funds and supplies.
With the hard-won gains of the last three months considered at risk, the ACT-Accelerator has now mounted a $7.7bn appeal, the Rapid ACT-Accelerator Delta Response (RADAR). As part of this, $1.2bn will be allocated to rapidly addressing acute oxygen needs to treat the seriously ill and control the exponential death surges caused by the Delta variant.
Global demand for medical oxygen is currently more than a dozen times greater than before the pandemic, the WHO said.
The funding will also enable RADAR to:
- Scale-up testing – $2.4bn to put all LMICs on track towards a 10-fold increase in Covid-19 testing and ensure all countries get up to satisfactory testing levels.
- Maintain R&D efforts – $1bn for ongoing R&D, to enable further market shaping and manufacturing, technical assistance and demand generation to ensure that tests, treatments and vaccines remain effective against the Delta variant and other emerging variants, and that they are accessible and affordable where they are needed.
- Roll-out tools – $1.4bn to help countries identify and address key bottlenecks for the effective deployment and use of all Covid-19 tools.
- Protect frontline healthcare workers – $1.7bn to provide two million essential healthcare workers with enough basic PPE to keep them safe while they care for the sick, prevent the collapse of health systems where the health workforce is already under-staffed and over-stretched, and prevent further spread of Covid-19.
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, said in a statement, “$7.7bn is needed urgently to fund the ACT-Accelerator’s work to address the Delta surge and put the world on track to ending the pandemic. This investment is a tiny portion of the amount governments are spending to deal with Covid-19 and makes ethical, economic and epidemiological sense.”
“If these funds aren’t made available now to stop the transmission of Delta in the most vulnerable countries, we will undoubtedly all pay the consequences later in the year.”
Achievements in medical oxygen
The unprecedented medical oxygen agreements announced in June are considered a major breakthrough in the oxygen sector and potentially signify the dawn of a new era in medical oxygen.
Other significant achievements across ACT-Accelerator’s therapeutics pillars include:
- Procurement of $37m worth of treatments and $316m worth of oxygen supplies
- From the start of the pandemic to 1st July 2021, over $97m of oxygen provisions (2.7 million items) have been shipped to countries
- In the last quarter, $219m awarded to countries for the procurement of oxygen provisions, including oxygen concentrators and new public oxygen plants, through the Global Fund Covid-19 Response Mechanism.
A key proponent in the aforementioned Covid-19 Oxygen Emergency Taskforce, is the Every Breath Counts Coalition – the first public-private partnership to support governments in LMICs to reduce pneumonia deaths by 2030.
Leith Greenslade, Founder and CEO of JustActions and Coordinator of the Every Breath Counts Coalition, previously told gasworld in an exclusive interview that she believes global health leaders and political leaders alike had a ‘blind spot’ when it came to oxygen supply. She likened their response to the pandemic as a vaccine-focused ‘one-legged stool’ but believes Covid-19 has changed the role of the oxygen industry forever – an industry that now needs to accept and embrace its position in the world’s public health architecture.
“Covid has changed the role of the industry forever. You are now, just like pharma companies. The oxygen industry is part of the public health landscape now and will be forever,” she said.
“I think that means you’re going to need different kinds of leaders, and different kinds of associations. You need to get public health expertise inside the organisations, just as pharma had to do 10 years ago and before. It was the HIV/AIDS pandemic that really brought pharma into a public health framework and transformed the way they operate.”
“I think the oxygen industry now needs to accept that it’s part of the public health architecture of the world, and that the medical gas business is going to be a much bigger part of the industry moving forward – and that’s a good thing for everyone.”