When a major epidemic, like the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) strikes, everyone’s attention turns to the complicated business of developing vaccines.
In response to the COVID-19 epidemic, the European Investment Bank intends to use existing financial instruments that it shares with the European Commission, primarily the InnovFin Infectious Disease Finance Facility, to back projects that aim to control, cure or prevent coronavirus.
The EIB will build on what we already do for the health sector. The EU Bank is already in contact with companies and organisations seeking to fund the search for COVID-19 vaccines and medication. The EIB Group will work without pause to ensure the EU bank contributes to the rapid resolution of this terrible crisis.
But it’s not only eye-catching viruses like COVID-19 that require an urgent response. Major world issues such as climate change play a role in the spread of disease. Just as it will take massive investments to halt climate change, so major financing is required for the prevention and cure of the diseases it promotes.
Keeping hospitals up and running
What does climate change have to do with hospitals? More than you might think. On the one hand, hospitals treat patients with illnesses caused by climate change. Conversely, they contribute to climate change.
The climate crisis affects public health, as well as the way we deliver care. Hospitals need to withstand service disruptions and temporary evacuations caused by heatwaves, wildfires, drought and floods. All over the world, doctors and nurses have to anticipate and treat new illnesses.
Most healthcare facilities are not climate-friendly. They produce large quantities of medical waste and use up a lot of energy for ventilation, heating, cooling, lighting and machinery. Some hospitals are taking steps to reduce their climate footprint.
The clinical centre in Rijeka, a major hospital in Croatia, is scattered among 60 old buildings in three locations across the town, causing unnecessary ambulance trips through heavy congestion. The hospital serves 600,000 residents around Rijeka and hundreds of thousands of people on holiday.
In 2019, the hospital broke ground on a new, modern building that will bring all its activities together in a single location. The project will upgrade and build up-to-date service facilities, including a thermal power block, a kitchen and parking areas. The new building is expected to reduce electricity use by 40%, gas by 50%, and save 30% of water. Newborn babies will no longer be transferred between hospital services that are nine kilometres apart. Instead, they’ll move comfortably from one room to the next. The hospital received a €50m EIB loan and advice from the European Investment Advisory Hub in 2019.
Holistic vaccine investment approach
To improve our health, we usually think of balanced diets, new medicines and drugs. The quality of the world around us may not immediately spring to mind. Eiffel Essentiel, an investment fund in France, is helping businesses in renewable energy, sustainable agriculture – and healthcare.
With a lifespan of up to 15 years, the fund will provide long-term growth capital to innovative firms. Innovative companies pursuing ambitious industrial investment projects need time to grow and develop. The fund plans to support 20 firms. The first potential investments include an agrifood company that specialises in treatments for specific illnesses.
Vaccine investment for climate action
Climate change can exacerbate the problems NGOs and scientists face trying to tackle major diseases. Take malaria. Warmer temperatures are increasing mosquito populations, so biotechnology companies are investing in new tools to prevent and treat malaria in Africa.
Each day in Africa, around 700 children die from malaria, one of the most lethal infectious diseases on the continent. Research and development in malaria are hampered by a € 1.8bn to €2.7bn deficit in funding, mainly for scaling up products. This shortage is made worse by increased resistance to insecticides used on bed nets and to some of the most effective drug treatments.
Extreme heat is directly related to several diseases, including cardiovascular and respiratory diseases and asthma. The rise in temperature is a consequence of climate change and the impact on the health of societies will increase. Concretely, climate change affects the social and environmental determinants of health – clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food and secure shelter.
There are many promising projects from biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies researching vaccines and other biological approaches to the prevention of malaria. These early-stage projects often struggle to find financing. But they have received support from the EU Malaria Fund, a €240m investment instrument involving the European Union, international organisations, corporations and civil society. The fund was created in 2014 by the KENUP Foundation, a global organisation promoting innovation in Europe.
The European Investment Bank signed in 2019 to invest €111m in the EU Malaria Fund to fill a market gap and accelerate new solutions that are critically needed to fight malaria and protect global public health.
The Bank is also supporting Gavi, a vaccine alliance that works to increase immunisation against 17 infectious diseases in poor countries. Each year, millions of children do not receive routine vaccines, leaving them vulnerable to disease. Gavi has vaccinated more than 760 million children since it was created 20 years ago. Its goal is to decrease the health impact of climate change by increasing the resilience of communities most at risk. It wants to immunise 300 million more children in the world’s poorest countries from 2021 to 2025, saving more than seven million lives.
Vaccination programmes in poor countries face many challenges, such as identifying people who have not been immunised, keeping the vaccines at the right temperature during transport, and ensuring that healthcare workers giving the vaccines are properly trained. All countries supported by Gavi pay for part of the vaccines, based on their per capita income.
Matt Rees is the Head of Editorial Unit at European Investment Bank (EIB)