When COVID-19 began spreading, countries needed to immediately plan to respond to a global pandemic. Pakistan, for example, recognized the urgency for a strategic approach to identify needs, develop a country-level response plan, and coordinate at both the national and provincial level. Of particular importance would be a real time mechanism to help monitor the flow of contributions in support of the response. Pakistan health officials began to work closely with WHO for the COVID-19 response. By using the COVID-19 Partners Platform action checklist, resource tracking and the Supply Portal, Pakistan was able to create its preparedness and response plan and coordinate with local donors. For the first time we have a tool that allows us to monitor fund flow, this is both operationally useful and a great service to all our partners, says Mr Julien Harneis, UN Resident Coordinator of Pakistan.
The online Partners Platform, launched with United Nations Development Coordination office (UNDCO) on March 16th, was built upon a WHO-vetted checklist of 143 actions, drawn from the most up-to-date guidance created by international experts. Countries choose actions from the checklist to create their COVID-19 preparedness and response plans. They can then note if they have initiated or fully completed the actions. Since all actions are fully costed, countries can also note where they need financial assistance. The transparency of the Platform allows donors to track what actions are taking place, where the biggest resource needs and gaps lie, and how to prioritize which allocations go where.
WHO / Blink Media Fabeha Monir
When we started emailing COVID-19 checklists and plans to countries in January thelist of countries was growing rapidly, says Mr Scott Pendergast, Director of Strategic Planning and Partnerships for the WHO Health Emergencies Programme; we realized we needed a live digital Platform to provide updated guidance on the new pandemic to help all public health officials in all countries around the world share what steps they were taking with each other, says Dr. Lucy Boulanger, head of WHOs new COVID-19 Partners Platform. Her team immediately began developing the first digital Platform where governments, UN agencies, and partners can plan and coordinate together in one place.
Countries quickly recognized the value in the Platform and became highly engaged. At the time of this story, 123 countries, areas and territories are actively using the Platform, with 110 plans uploaded and 106 countries tracking their activities using the action checklist across eight pillars of the public health response and a ninth pillar on maintaining essential health services and systems. Boulanger describes the Platform as a rich repository of ideas.
Dr Mike Ryan, Executive Director of WHOs Health Emergencies programme, stresses the Platforms importance in keeping health systems from breaking down. Health emergencies weaken health systems, and weak health systems exacerbate health emergencies. Its a negative cycle unless you can turn it around. The Platform can be used to help countries maintain essential health services like vaccinations during a pandemic. Dr Boulanger, a medical epidemiologist and part of WHOs Health Emergencies programmes preparedness division, offers Italy as an example of a country whose health system was put under extreme stress early on during the pandemic constraining their ability to offer most essential health services.
WHO / Blink Media Fabeha Monir
The need for the Platform concept existed before COVID-19 came on the scene. This Platform grew out of extraordinary frustration during the last five years of Ebola coordination, says Dr Boulanger, who spent two years responding to the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Countries desires to respond to health emergencies grew exponentially following the Ebola outbreak. It could no longer be a static system over email. It had to be user-friendly, country-focused, and data driven in real time, says Boulanger.
The Platform is constantly evolving based on the needs of the more than 3500 stakeholders actively utilizing the platform. Operational guidance can be adjusted immediately as new information on the virus develops. For example, guidance for rolling out vaccines to different countries (the Access to COVID-19 tools (ACT) accelerator) is going to be changing rapidly, and the only way to update and track that efficiently is on a web-based platform, says Boulanger.
Using data gathered from all WHO regions, the Partners Platform data dashboard provides all users with visualizations highlighting global, regional and country datasets; analysis comparing actions, resource needs, contributions and gaps; and data to inform decision-making.
Perhaps one of the most unique aspects of the Platform is its transparency, particularly the visibility of countries response plans, resource gaps and donor allocations. As of 1 September, 88 countries have shared resource needs across nine pillars of public health totaling US $9.1 billion. Donors have responded with more than 600 contributions totaling US $7.5 billion.
The Platform facilitates requests for funds but does not match funds with needs. A country goes onto the Platform and makes a request for a resource (i.e. Personal Protective Equipment), and then, should they need funding, makes a request for financial support for that resource. If funding comes in for that request, the country can then move into the Supply Portal within the Platform to request the supplies and see committed funds. As of 1 Sep, 88 countries have used the Supply Portal.
Donors can request information from the Platform on what needs exist and what actions are being implemented when and where. We can see that the most widely planned actions on countries checklists are for coordination, surveillance, risk communication, and community engagement. The actions with the highest price tag are case management (work force and supplies to take care of patients) and maintaining essential health services.
The Partners Platform is the only place where the major donor partners (World Bank, Development Banks, the EU, UAE, Canada, Germany, Gavi, Japan and The Global Fund) can see what each other is doing in emergency response, make informed decisions, and coordinate. In this way funding goes towards internationally standardized interventions. Donors can ensure their contributions are going towards implementing key activities, says Boulanger. The Philippines, for example, has 36 NGO partners engaged on the Platform. By using the Platform, partners can visualize which regions in the country need more help and direct their donations accordingly.
The Platform also promotes coordination between countries. AFRO aims to register at least one member of a Government Ministry in each country with the Platform. This dedicated engagement strategy has led to a tide change of interest from Ministries: 45% of AFRO countries (22 countries) have now appointed a Ministry member on the Platform, with 65% of users from the Ministry of Health.Kenya wants to use it as their national reporting system.
WHO / Blink Media - Gilliane Soupe
The Platform represents an additional way for countries to provide technical leadership and support to neighbouring countries as well as globally. United Arab Emirates was one of the first in the Eastern Mediterranean Region to upload its response plan to the Platform. In addition to using the Platform to monitor regional and global resource needs, the Platform helps countries with cross-border preparedness/response planning (like international travel).
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General appreciates that the Partners Platform was conceived from the beginning with countries needs in mind. The Partners Platform is country centered. The countries decide what information they want to share with the world about their actions and resources. It gives the power to the countries and the visibility to the world, says Boulanger.
WHOs Partners Platform is an exemplary mechanism for solidarity in response to COVID-19. It integrates and streamlines the planning, financing and monitoring of the global response, with transparency that has never been seen before. WHO hopes the Platform can be used for future global health emergencies with plug and play modules depending on the epidemic. Some authorities have inquired if it may be used as a model for socio-economic protection or economic risk mitigation. I cant grow it fast enough, says Boulanger.
Read more about WHO COVID-19 Partners Platform and Supply Portal
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