South-South Trust Funds Respond to COVID-19, Fast-tracking Medical Purchases, Enabling Peer Learning and Supporting Joint Research

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Pictured: UNDP Antigua & Barbuda Head of Office Mellissa Johnson (left) with the Minister of Health, Wellness & the Environment Hon. Molwyn Joseph (right) at the handover of five ventilators on Thursday 25th June at the Infectious Disease Center (IDC).

The funds managed by the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC) were early responders to the COVID-19 pandemic, facilitating city-to-city contributions of medical equipment as early as February 2020 and, by April, purchases of ventilators for the small island developing States first affected.

To date, South-South trust funds have fast-tracked finance totalling almost $12 million to 30 countries in the global South to help them respond to COVID-19 through the purchase of ventilators and personal protective equipment as well as resources to mitigate the socioeconomic impact among those who are the most vulnerable. 

In the last six months as the pandemic swept the world and took hold in most developing countries, the combined portfolio of the four trust funds managed by UNOSSC has contributed to the virus containment and mitigation efforts on a range of fronts. 

The United Nations Fund for South-South Cooperation (UNFSSC) supported a mapping of responses to COVID-19 across the global South and relevant experiences in overcoming previous epidemics, thereby providing a dynamic repository of efforts to address the pandemic to enable countries to quickly access information, compare practices and learn from one another through South-South knowledge exchanges on the South-South Galaxy platform.  This also includes the mapping of official donation platforms established by Governments. The mapping is being shared through online platforms, social media and through WHO dissemination to its regional networks.

Additionally, supported by UNFSSC initiatives, UNOSSC facilitated a series of South-South exchange and capacity-development webinars to promote the sharing of experiences and emerging lessons learned from different countries as they respond to the COVID-19 crisis. Many of these are accessible in the six official UN languages – covering thematic areas such as e-commerce, digital innovation, city tourism recovery, youth entrepreneurship, disaster risk reduction, public health, climate change, and sustainable agriculture and food security – and involve more than 17 partner agencies and development partners. The trainings and webinars reached more than 350,000 people through advocacy and communication and attracted close to 1 million webinar viewers from more than 140 countries. In addition, a  number of publications on COVID-19 have been or are about to be published, including one on “COVID-19 and Healthy Cities” with UNHABITAT and another titled “Spotlighting Cities in Action for COVID-19 Responses” support from the UNDRR and PAHO/WHO.

At the regional level, the UNFSSC has approved allocation of $360,000 to support response to the pandemic in Africa, Asia Pacific, Arab States and Europe CIS regions. For example, in Africa, the focus is to support African countries’ public health preparedness and facilitate peer learning among first responders for African countries affected by COVID-19. This initiative is being coordinated with the AUDA-NEPAD and Africa CDC, through the UNOSSC Africa regional office, with implementation support by UNDP regional hub in Africa. 

The India-UN Development Partnership Fund is leveraging the strengths of the UN system to fast-track and implement transformative projects on the request of national governments. As of September, the Fund, including its Commonwealth Window, had approved COVID-19 response projects and proposals for $9,918,819 for 13 countries (Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, Grenada, Guyana, Kiribati, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Tuvalu), while the ongoing UNDP project Leveraging ICT to Improve Education and Skills in Timor-Leste has been repurposed to support ICT-based education in the COVID-19 scenario. Implemented by partners such as PAHO, UNDP, UNOPS and WFP, projects are supplying medical equipment, building health-care capacities, mitigating socioeconomic impact and catalysing transformative recovery. 

One of the largest projects, with $1 million, is being implemented in Antigua and Barbuda by UNDP to strengthen national health capacities and address the negative impacts of COVID-19 on the economy.  The project entails technical assistance to undertake a rapid, gender-responsive assessment of the existing social protection systems, as well as support for the early implementation of an additional gender-responsive food-security intervention. This support is deemed crucial as the global pandemic threatens to profoundly deepen inequalities and undo progress on sustainable development and, more broadly, the humanitarian response. Unemployment is forecast to increase with the fall-off in tourism and, critically, women are overrepresented in tourism-sector employment, accounting for 60 per cent of the labour force in that sector. 

The project will also support e-commerce services for micro-, small and medium-sized enterprises and other businesses in agriculture, tourism and the gig economy. Technical support will be provided to develop online services, home-safe deliveries and telework. Five ventilators have already been provided to better equip the specially designed infectious-disease and isolation centre, which was set up in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Another $1 million project, implemented by UNDP and WFP, is benefiting the people of St. Lucia: the specially designated hospital has been equipped with 2 ventilators to support Saint Lucia’s response to COVID-19 and reduce the impact that a potential second wave could have on the island. A Government-led cash transfer programme is also being supported to address the socioeconomic impact of COVID-19 on the most vulnerable households in Saint Lucia and to expand the Public Assistance Programme to increase the reach to affected and vulnerable persons.

With the India-UN Partnership Development Fund contribution of $152,768, UNOPS is supporting the rehabilitation of some community health centres in Palau. The Palau Ministry of Health is assisted to provide adequate facilities to deliver patient-focused care and improved and safe working conditions for medical staff, both of which are key to efficient, sustainable health-care systems that support a healthier population.  

In partnership with WHO and Hai Phong University of Medicine and Pharmacy, the India, Brazil and South Africa Facility for Poverty and Hunger Alleviation (IBSA Fund) built an e-learning platform comprised of a network of health practitioners and health centres equipped with the technology for online learning and peer consultations, which is contributing to the COVID-19 response. Since knowledge on COVID-19 care and treatment needed to be disseminated to the health workforce to respond to the outbreak, training modules on COVID-19 developed by WHO for clinical care for severe acute respiratory infections were translated into Vietnamese and distributed through that platform, thereby extending the reach of the training course to frontline health-care providers in Viet Nam. 

The Pérez-Guerrero Trust Fund (PGTF) has approved two initiatives facilitating cross-border higher education in the COVID-19 context and joint scientific research. Eight Latin American countries (Argentina, Plurinational State of Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Honduras, Paraguay and Uruguay) will enhance their support to exchange university students completing their studies in other countries of the region, while five countries in the Middle East, Asia and North Africa (Algeria, Afghanistan, Egypt, Jordan and Tunisia) will advance joint research on COVID-19-related aspects of animal and human health.

Click here to learn more about UNOSSC’s COVID-19 response.

For more information contact: Ines Tofalo, Chief, Programme Support Unit, UNOSSC  ines.tofalo@unossc.org