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Del Re: Coronavirus, from the vaccine to inequalities between countries and within countries. Italy and Europe ready for the challenge of the future in order to “rebuild better” (Il Fatto Quotidiano)

The inter-institutional Operating Coordination Committee on Italy’s contribution to the prevention of and global response to the COVID-19 pandemic was inaugurated on 30 June at the Farnesina. From a political point of view, the Committee offers a centre of liaison and coordination of the initiatives of all the actors involved, in order to consolidate the coherent and unified response of the Italian development system to the global fight against the pandemic, with particular attention to prevention and action in the health, socio-economic and food safety sectors. From the point of view of its operation, the Committee will play an advisory role on the strategic and policy choices made by Italy, including the reorientation of resources and priorities. The Committee will study aspects related to the contribution of pharmaceutical research to vaccine development and the participation of the Italian pharmaceutical industry in the effort associated with the fight against the pandemic on a national and international level. All the subjects involved in various capacities with different and often complementary roles, with the aim of consolidating the Italian response to the pandemic crisis, participated in the inauguration.

The principles which inspire the Committee start from the premise that coronavirus has touched each of us, everywhere in the world. Although the virus is mainly a threat to global health, the effects of the prolonged lockdown have triggered a devastating socio-economic crisis: millions of people have lost their jobs, have difficulty feeding themselves, and risk their lives.

The pandemic has revealed, almost as if it were an X-ray, that there are people who are affected more than others by the pandemic. The gap between rich and poor has never been so macroscopic. Inequality, a scourge of every society, has shown its relentless face everywhere. For many of our partner countries (developing countries) in Africa, Latin America and Asia, Covid-19 has once again highlighted how urgent it is to tackle ancestral problems. The health systems of these countries, their water and sewerage distribution networks are under severe pressure; moreover, rising unemployment, especially among young people, is undermining the already fragile social security systems.

Europe can and must be prepared to address such challenges, which require a lasting resolution worldwide. The right answers can only be found in a solidarity-based approach, in international partnership and in cooperation. Helping our partner countries to cope with the consequences of the pandemic is not only the right thing to do: it is also an absolute interest of Europe and Italy, because it has never before been so clear how interdependent we are. It is in our self-interest to correct the imbalances in the world, especially for our own benefit. In fact, acting in fragile countries allows us to contrast political instability, poverty and hunger, which always have repercussions on a global level and, therefore, on our country. Endorsing stability and development in all countries creates more political, economic, social and security opportunities for everyone.

This is the reason for which the European Union and its member states, acting as a real “Team Europe”, are investing 36 billion euros to address the needs of the most vulnerable in the world. As soon as the Covid-19 infection attained the characteristics of a pandemic, Brussels and the other European capitals took urgent and coordinated measures to assist our partners in managing the emergency and its consequences. Since then, Team Europe’s contributions to the global response have continued to increase. The resources are used to fund short, medium and long-term actions, tailored to the different needs of our partner countries: our goal is to leave no one behind. After all, if our partners are stronger, Europe is also stronger.

Before the pandemic, the Italian Cooperation system was already implementing health projects in different countries of the world. In Palestine at the beginning of the emergency, the resources destined for initiatives in the health sector were rapidly assigned for the purchase of anti-contagion medical devices and aids, and for prevention campaigns. Other funds have been reallocated to ensure protection for women in quarantine, especially for those who are victims of gender-based violence – to increase women’s access to credit and training, and to create a fund to support small businesses.

The emergency also required a certain amount of creativity: for example, the Italian Cooperation system in Somalia, in collaboration with Unido (the United Nations Industrial Development Organization), used part of the funds of a broader agricultural capacity building project, to allow small local entrepreneurs to produce surgical masks. This initiative, albeit small, has had a great impact both in terms of job creation and health protection.

It is certain that the main objective of Team Europe for the immediate future is the rapid development of a vaccine, which will be accessible to all. Thanks to unprecedented political collaboration which brought together governments, non-profit organisations and donors from all over the world, at the beginning of May the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen promoted, along with a small number of partners including Italy, a conference of donors. We have raised nearly ten billion dollars to develop diagnostic and therapeutic treatments and to speed up the research for an effective vaccine. This is another clear example of what we can achieve if we act together as a global community. Starting from an intuition of Minister Di Maio, Italy has actively promoted the establishment of a global alliance for the anti-Covid-19 vaccine. Italy was one of the founding members of the international alliance that launched the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, the most advanced multilateral cooperation platform to accelerate and scale up access to diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines.

Furthermore, the crisis caused by Covid-19 caused blockages in the food supply chains and is likely to trigger a serious food crisis in some of the more exposed countries. A close collaboration of Team Europe with specialised agencies of the United Nations such as the FAO, the WFP and the IFAD is necessary both to face the emergency phase and to manage the consequences in the medium and long term, which are likely to be even more severe. To address this challenge, Italy and the FAO have launched the “Food Coalition”, an initiative aimed at mobilising the skills of the public and private sector and civil society to implement targeted projects on the ground where there is more need.

Let the truth be told. Planning the restart and post-Covid assets cannot be done by simply returning to the world as it was before the pandemic. Nobody can afford it, especially our partner countries already severely affected by the climate emergency, the increase in inequalities, human underdevelopment and the digital divide. We are all engaged in the difficult task of rebuilding our economies and societies, but as UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said, this also offers us the opportunity to “rebuild better”. We have a huge responsibility towards young people, who are our future. When the new generations review the historical phase we are now experiencing, we want them to say that their parents gave the world a truly positive turn, taking advantage of all the opportunities offered by the ecological and digital transition, building a better future for them and a more sustainable, equitable and inclusive world for all.

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