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BRUSSELS -The World Health Organization (WHO) is seeking $11.5 billion in urgent funding to fight the more infectious Delta variant of the coronavirus, a draft report seen by Reuters shows, amid worries wealthy nations are partly bypassing its COVID-19 programmes.
A large portion of the cash being requested from the WHO's partners is needed to buy tests, oxygen and face masks in poorer nations, says the document which is expected to be released this week. And a quarter of it would be to buy hundreds of millions of vaccines for them that would otherwise go elsewhere.
The paper, still subject to changes, outlines the results and financial needs of the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A), the programme co-led by the WHO to distribute fairly COVID-19 vaccines, drugs and tests across the world.
The programme, set up at the start of the pandemic, remains vastly underfunded, and its coordinators are now acknowledging it will remain so as many governments look to address global COVID needs "differently", an ACT-A official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.
As a result, it has cut by nearly $5 billion its total request for funds, the document shows. But it still needs $16.8 billion, almost as much as what has been raised so far, and $7.7 billion is required urgently.
The document also calls for a further $3.8 billion, on top of the $7.7 billion, to take up options for 760 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines that would be delivered next year.
"These options to buy need to be exercised in the coming months or vaccine doses will be lost," the document warns.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus last week said that $7.7 billion were urgently needed, but did not give a breakdown of planned spending, and did not say how much extra money was needed for vaccines.
The WHO was not immediately available to comment.
The latest cash crunch will underscore concerns about the long-term future of the programme, which has struggled to secure supplies and equipment to tame a pandemic that has killed more than 4.2 million.
The vaccine portion of the project, called COVAX, is increasingly reliant on donations from wealthy nations, rather than its own supplies, after key manufacturer India restricted exports of shots to boost domestic vaccinations.
But the United States, European Union and Japan have also donated vaccines directly to countries as part of their vaccine diplomacy drives. Japan has also said it's a quicker process than going through COVAX.
Some countries have provided equipment directly to others too. Last month, Australia said it would donate oxygen-related equipment, antigen test-kits as well as vaccines to Indonesia.
The plea for cash comes as a review of the ACT-A gets under way, with France, Germany and Canada among the countries steering the process. A report on the programme's results and shortcomings is expected in September by consultancy Dalberg Global Development Advisors, the ACT-A official said.