By Jennifer Rigby
LONDON (Reuters) - A multi-billion dollar fund set up by G20 countries to help developing countries better prepare for pandemics could be operational within months, according to the World Bank.
The bank – which will house the fund – said it was "proceeding quickly" to set up the facility, after releasing a white paper for consultation last week on how it might work.
"Pandemic preparedness is a top global priority," a spokesperson for the bank told Reuters by email. "The fund is expected to be open for business later this year."
So far, the fund has raised just under $1 billion from the United States, the European Union and Germany, as well as private donors. The World Bank and the World Health Organization, which is advising on the facility, has estimated that the annual funding gap for pandemic preparedness is $10 billion.
The progress on the fund comes after an independent panel warned last week that the world is no better placed to fight future health threats than it was when COVID-19 hit in 2019, and may even be in a worse position thanks to the financial toll of that pandemic.
The fund has been a key topic for discussion on the sidelines of the WHO's annual assembly, taking place in Geneva this week, although it is not officially on the agenda.
On Monday, the pharmaceutical industry said wealthy nations should fund a supply mechanism for vaccines for low-income countries without delay, in case of a new pandemic.
The World Bank said it was still consulting with partners on how the fund would work and what it would spend money on.
"It is vital that this fund supports gaps identified at the country level," said Eloise Todd, co-founder of the Pandemic Action Network, who said it was also important to make sure that countries that might benefit had a voice at the table.
(Reporting by Jennifer Rigby; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)