WHO creates foundation to boost funds as COVID-19 cases climb

The World Health Organization (WHO) today announced the creation of a new independent funding group—the WHO Foundation—to expand support for its global health activities, as another study of hydroxychloroquine as a potential COVID-19 treatment was paused to look for safety signals, with some nations banning its use.

The global total today rose to 5,651,806 cases, and at least 353,246 people have died from their infections, according to the Johns Hopkins online dashboard.

Need for more stable, flexible funding

At a media briefing today, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, the WHO's director-general, said the launch of the WHO Foundation is a historic step that allows the WHO to generate funding from sources it hasn't drawn from before, including the general public.

He said the idea came from an employee during a brainstorming session, and the organization has worked on putting the foundation together since February 2018, but it was not ready to launch when the COVID-19 epidemic began.

He said the WHO is one of the few organizations of its kind that doesn't take donations from the general public, but it took a step in that direction earlier this spring when it launched the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund, which raised $214 million from 400,000 individuals and companies, including $55 million from the One World: Together at Home virtual concert.

Solidarity fund money had targeted lab tests, personal protective equipment, and research and development, including vaccines. It also supported today's launch of a public service announcement aimed at children, featuring the Minions and Gru, with a voice-over by actor Steve Carrell.

Tedros also said the funds help free more flexible funding for WHO. Currently, 20% of its budget comes from flexible assessed funding, with 80% coming from voluntary funds from countries and other donors that target specific projects. "But for WHO to fulfill its mission and mandate, there is a clear need to broaden our donor base and to improve both the quantity and quality of funding we receive—meaning more flexible funding," he said.

He said the WHO Foundation will be headed by Thomas Zeltner, MD, a doctor and lawyer who was Switzerland's former health secretary. In statement today, the WHO said the foundation will be headquartered in Geneva and will function as an independent grant-making entity that helps the WHO deliver on its "triple billion" goals: 1 billion people protected from health emergencies, 1 billion more covered by universal healthcare, and 1 billion assured of health and wellness by 2023.

The group is legally separate from the WHO and is designed to provide a more stable funding base and streamline philanthropic contributions to the WHO.

Pause, bans on hydroxychloroquine

In other global developments today, the United Kingdom's Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency announced that a hydroxychloroquine trial by a team from the University of Oxford involving healthcare workers will be put on hold, just 1 week after it started, Reuters reported.

The move follows a WHO announcement 2 days ago that it was pausing the arm of the large Solidarity trial to look into safety concerns triggered by the publication of an observational study in The Lancet last week.

Also, French officials today banned the use of the drug to treat COVID-19 patients, CBS News reported. While an early small study from a French researcher showed initial promising results, four deaths due to complications from the drug's side effects have been reported from France, while another French study found 43 instances of heart problems in patients with COVID-19 treated with the drug.

Other countries taking similar actions include Italy and Belgium, according to the Reuters report.

Cases surge in Brazil, India

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19 activity continues to accelerate in Brazil, with the 1,039 deaths it reported yesterday far exceeding the 592 deaths reported by the United States over the same period, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The country has the second-highest number of cases in the world, about 390,000, and it now has the sixth-highest number of deaths, at about 24,500, behind the United States and four hard-hit European countries.

Elsewhere, India has reported a record number of cases—6,535—for the seventh day in a row and is now the country with the tenth-highest case total, ABC News reported. So far, the country has reported 158,086 cases, including 4,534 deaths.

In other global developments:

  • Mexico yesterday reported its biggest 1-day jump in deaths, with 501, Reuters It has 74,560 cases, including 8,134 deaths.

  • A group that runs the UK's domestic abuse hotline said calls have gone up 66% during the lockdown, and visits to its website have increased by 950%, CBS News In a related development, the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA), the World Health Organization, and the European Commission yesterday launched a domestic-abuse awareness campaign due to spikes in reports of abuse of women and children in stay-at-home order settings.

  • South Korea yesterday reported a small spike of 40 cases, its biggest in 49 days, mostly linked to an outbreak at an e-commerce company, according to Reuters. Also, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said yesterday that it is investigating two suspected cases of multisystem inflammatory syndrome associated with COVID-19 in children, both from Seoul.

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