GENEVA - The United Nations on Thursday called for an immediate "quantum leap" in funding for global programs to combat the coronavirus and get the world going again.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged countries to find $15 billion over the next three months to fund the ACT-Accelerator program, a global collaboration to hunt for a vaccine and treatments led by the UN's World Health Organization (WHO).
"Either we stand together or we will be doomed," Guterres told an ACT-Accelerator virtual meeting, calling the virus the "number one global security threat".
"We need a quantum leap in funding to increase the chances of a global solution to get the world moving, working and prospering again," he said.
He said the near $3 billion contributed so far had been critical for the initial phase since the accelerator's launch four months ago, but $35 billion more was needed to shift from start-up to scale-up -- beginning with $15 billion in the next three months.
Without it "we will lose the window of opportunity", Guterres said.
He said typical aid budgets would not cover the costs, urging donors to "go deep" into money set aside for combating coronavirus.
'START SAVING LIVES'
The virus has killed more than 900,000 people and infected at least 27.9 million since the outbreak emerged in China last December.
According to the WHO's latest overview, 35 candidate vaccines for the virus are being tested on humans, of which nine have reached Phase III trials where they are tested on tens of thousands of people.
A further 145 candidate vaccines are in earlier testing phases.
Typically only about 10 percent of candidate vaccines succeed.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus hailed the speed at which vaccines, diagnostics and treatments for Covid-19 were being developed was "astonishing" but said more needed to be done.
"We need to rapidly scale up our clinical trials, manufacturing, licensing and regulation capacity so that these products can get to people and start saving lives," he said.
"The ACT-Accelerator will not be able to deliver on its goals without a significant increase in funding.
"Fully financing the ACT-Accelerator would shorten the pandemic and pay back this investment rapidly as the global economy recovers."
South Africa and Norway are co-chairing the ACT-Accelerator facilitation council, which will guide the program's work.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who chairs the African Union, told the meeting that the continent should "not be left behind" once a viable vaccine is produced.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame called the ACT-Accelerator "one of the most important international initiatives underway in the world today, and perhaps ever".