Coming Together To Defeat The Threat Of The Century

3 June 2020

Dr. Peter Singer, World Heath Organization


Myriad Canada is the Canadian partner of the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund, the first and only fund allowing individuals and companies to contribute directly to pandemic response efforts by the World Health Organization (WHO) and its partners, the Swiss Philanthropy Foundation and the United Nations Foundation.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is the worst sudden public health crisis in 100 years. The only way to address a truly global threat like that is through global solidarity,” says Canadian Peter Singer, Special Advisor to WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

A global initiative to save lives

Myriad Canada partnered with the fund to expand the network of donors and collect Canadian donations. Contributions go towards supporting countries according to the WHO’s COVID-19 Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan to track and understand the spread of the virus, ensure patients get the care they need and front-line workers get essential supplies and information and accelerate research and development of a vaccine.

“The fund is an innovation in that this is to my knowledge the first time that a wide swath of citizens around the world were able to join together in solidarity to fight this global threat,” says Singer. “The only way to sustain this effort is to have widespread support at the grassroots. And this is something that every Canadian can do.”

Protecting our front-line workers

One of the key pillars of the plan is to get critical supplies to where they are most needed, including protective gear to front-line health workers. “Health workers are risking their lives to help others, and that’s the reason we’re all applauding for them every night all over the world,” says Singer. “They deserve our deepest respect, and they also deserve the protection they need to make that risk as low as possible.”

The WHO manages an extensive global supply chain effort for high-demand items such as surgical masks and gloves, working together with partners all over the world. “You really need an organization that works with scale and works with partners at scale to respond to this level of threat. Because nobody is safe in the world until we are all safe,” says Singer.

Solidarity with the world’s most vulnerable

Singer fears a long road ahead to counter both the COVID-19 outbreak and its devastating ripple effects. “The worst may be yet to come, and it is going to hit the world’s vulnerable populations the hardest,” he says.

The pandemic is putting pressure on fragile health systems and creating widespread economic hardship, compounding the precarity of the world’s day workers. “You can suffer and die from the virus itself, but also because you don’t have access to health services that you normally have access to, or because you don’t have enough money for food,” says Singer. He underlines that the WHO’s response strategies are essential to mitigating the pandemic’s knock-on effects, emphasizing that “solving this public health crisis is the only way to solve the economic crisis.”

Innovation with impact

As the former head of Grand Challenges Canada, Singer has spent much of his career focusing on innovative solutions to global health challenges. The WHO’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic combines time-tested public health strategies with cutting-edge research.

“The core of the response is the so-called shoe-leather public health strategy of finding, testing, isolating, and caring for every case,” explains Singer. “In addition to that the exit strategy is science, and in particular the vaccine effort.”

Even creating access to simple equipment like oxygen masks can be a complex undertaking which requires ingenuity and resourcefulness. “Innovation doesn’t always have to be fancy, but it can be life-saving,” says Singer. “It can always help to make things faster or cheaper, but the key here is innovation with impact.”

We will prevail

The cause came even closer to home for Singer when he and his wife fell ill with the virus in early March. “We recognize that we were at the mild end of the spectrum. It gave us both hope and a deeper understanding of the fears people face. We came out of it with an even greater sense of solidarity with everyone who has suffered and a sense of mourning and loss for those who have sadly perished,” he says.

The overwhelming show of generosity the WHO has seen from donors strengthens Singer’s hope for a collective solution. At the time of printing, over 373,000 individuals, companies and foundations from all over the world had donated over 212 million US dollars to the fund.

“This is a terrible crisis, but in any crisis, the human spirit will prevail, and we will prevail against this virus together,” says Singer. “I think this is also the core lesson of the solidarity fund.”