UNICEF chief urges firms to fight COVID-19 with public sector partners

FILE PHOTO: Munich Security Conference

(Reuters) – Firms should look toward public-private partnerships in the fight against COVID-19, the head of United Nations’ children’s agency told business leaders on Thursday.

The pandemic could provide a rare opportunity for companies and public bodies to come together to improve access to education and vaccines, UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore told the WomenCorporateDirectors (WCD) conference, a convention of corporate leaders taking place online.

“We don’t make the vaccines, we can’t do that without big public-private partnerships – and so we put out common bids,” Fore said.

The largest buyer of vaccines in the world, UNICEF said last week it would help lead efforts to procure and distribute COVID-19 vaccines as part of a plan to provide equitable accessible to shots.

Public-private partnerships could also help education come out of COVID-19 stronger, said Fore, noting however that many suppliers were not bidding as they did not consider selling to governments or the U.N. an option.

“We’ve got a once-in-a-generation opportunity to leapfrog technologies in learning,” she said, flagging low-orbit satellites, fibre-optic cable and WiFi networks which have accelerated global connectivity.

“We can do what we’ve done in vaccines with common bids. It’s going to be a great business opportunity.”

UNICEF estimates there are 1.6 billion children out of school across 190 countries – impacting workforces across the world – and aims to have 500 million children and young people connected by the end of next year, and all 3.5 billion by 2030.

(Reporting by Sarah Morland and Milla Nissi in Gdansk; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

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