UK aid transparency concerns, an Ebola outbreak ends, and South Africa’s COVID-19 vaccine trial

A health worker vaccinates a man who has been in contact with an Ebola-affected person in Congo. Photo by: World Bank / Vincent Tremeau / CC BY-NC-ND

DFID’s demise raises questions about U.K. aid transparency, WHO announces the end of Congo’s 10th Ebola outbreak — while it responds to the 11th — and South Africa launches the continent’s first COVID-19 vaccine trial. This week in development:

The U.K. aid community continues to grapple with the implications of an impending merger of the Department for International Development and the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who will head the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, tried to reassure members of Parliament that the country’s aid budget will continue to be spent on low-income and conflict-affected countries and in support of key development priorities such as girls’ education. Raab also reported that he recently sought the counsel of development expert Paul Collier to understand “how we can really maximize our aid effort alongside our foreign policy, our trade, and our wider security international objectives.” Despite those reassurances, U.K. aid advocates continue to worry that FCO’s significantly worse record on aid transparency could undermine the country’s commitment to good development outcomes. “It is difficult to see how the new office will reconcile the competing mandates of poverty reduction and U.K. foreign policy interests, both at the global level but also in the field, given the newly expanded roles of ambassadors to manage ODA,” said Gary Forster, CEO of Publish What You Fund, which released its “2020 Aid Transparency Index” this week. Those transparency concerns are heightened by unanswered questions about the fate of DFID’s watchdog groups — the Independent Commission for Aid Impact and Parliament’s International Development Committee.

The World Health Organization announced an official end to the 10th outbreak of Ebola virus disease in the Democratic Republic of the Congo on Thursday. The outbreak began in North Kivu province on Aug. 1, 2018, and resulted in 2,287 deaths — amounting to a mortality rate of roughly 66% and the second-deadliest Ebola outbreak ever. The 22-month response effort, which was led by Congo’s government, involved registering 250,000 contacts, testing 220,000 samples, and vaccinating over 303,000 people, according to WHO. The good news has been tempered by another Ebola flare-up that was reported in the country’s Northwest on June 1, in addition to a measles outbreak and a growing number of coronavirus cases. “The DRC is now better, smarter and faster at responding to Ebola and this is an enduring legacy which is supporting the response to COVID-19 and other outbreaks,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, in a statement.

South Africa will begin the first clinical trial on the African continent of a vaccine for the novel coronavirus. The University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, is collaborating with the University of Oxford and the Oxford Vaccine Group to expand a trial of the Ox1Cov-19 vaccine, which is already underway in the U.K., to an additional group of participants in South Africa. “This is a landmark moment for South Africa and Africa at this stage of the Covid-19 pandemic. As we enter winter in South Africa and pressure increases on public hospitals, now more than ever we need a vaccine to prevent infection by Covid-19,” said Shabir Madhi, a professor of vaccinology at Wits University who is leading the trial. As of Wednesday, South Africa had confirmed 111,796 cases of COVID-19, representing about a third of the continent’s cases.

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