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Sweden’s response in the global fight against the COVID-19 pandemic


The COVID-19 pandemic presents an unprecedented global crisis. The worldwide spread of the virus highlights the importance of collaboration and solidarity in tackling global challenges, leaving no one behind. Sweden continues to stand up for international principles and commitments and to support multilateral organisations working to fight the pandemic and its impacts. This is in line with Sweden’s work and ambitions to meet the 2030 Agenda. With a well-considered response, the international community can together lay the foundations for a more sustainable, equitable and gender-equal world that will be better equipped to manage future crises.

Sweden’s main strategy is to provide core funding that gives international actors such as the UN, the International Red Cross Movement and multilateral development banks the flexibility required to take effective action as needs arise. Sweden continues to allocate one per cent of its GDP, a total of approximately SEK 52 billion, to official development assistance. Through international development cooperation, Sweden contributes directly and indirectly to fighting COVID-19, especially among the most vulnerable individuals and groups. Sweden’s support is aimed at building resilient health systems in low- and middle-income countries, increasing access to vaccines, diagnostics and treatment, and mitigating the socio-economic impacts of the pandemic. Sweden is working to ensure that basic vaccination programmes are maintained and to secure global access to COVID-19 vaccines. Equitable and gender-equal health care that is accessible to all is crucial to tackling global health challenges. No health system is stronger than its weakest link.

Women are disproportionally represented in the health and social services sectors, increasing their risk of exposure to the disease. Stress, limited mobility and livelihood disruptions also increase women’s and girls’ vulnerability to gender-based violence and exploitation. When health systems redirect resources away from sexual and reproductive health and rights services, women’s access to family planning, antenatal care and other critical services has suffered.

Sweden’s core support to multilateral partners amounts to around SEK 18 billion annually. Core support is not earmarked. This is important if organisations are to be able to respond rapidly and flexibly as needs arise, but also to ensure that other life-saving humanitarian operations can continue. The World Health Organization (WHO) is a key player in the global health response to the pandemic, with the International Health Regulations serving as a foundation for the surveillance and response to, infectious diseases. Sweden contributes both political and financial support to the WHO. Sweden also provides core support to many other multilateral organisations including UNFPA, UNDP, UNAIDS, OCHA, CERF, UNHCR, UNICEF, UNRWA, UN WOMEN, WFP, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

Sweden has mobilised additional resources for development and humanitarian assistance. To respond to the challenges posed by the pandemic, in terms of the health, humanitarian and socioeconomic response, Sida is also adjusting its ongoing support. In addition, Sweden is providing extensive support to international financial institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF to help reduce the socio-economic and other impacts of the pandemic.

The EU is a key actor in the global response. Sweden supports the ‘Team Europe’ approach, which involves extensive collaboration between EU institutions, Member States and financial institutions to support partner countries. Its aim is to strengthen joint coordination on the ground, including with the UN and the multilateral development banks, and communication around EU initiatives. The EU delegations and embassies play a central role in these efforts.

Ensuring free, fair and open trade is an important component in both the immediate response and the social and economic recovery plan. Sweden has worked actively to ensure the smooth functioning of the European single market and removal of newly imposed export restrictions. Sweden has launched the ‘Trade for Health’ initiative, aimed at removing tariffs and other trade barriers on medical products. To strengthen the green recovery, Sweden is also pushing in the WTO for the elimination of tariffs on environmental goods and services. With its feminist trade policy, Sweden is working to promote gender equality in trade.

The pandemic threatens to exacerbate ongoing conflicts and cause new ones, which in turn increases humanitarian needs. Sweden prioritises conflict prevention and peace building – including the meaningful participation of women – as part of the global pandemic response to prevent human suffering, but also to underpin development and humanitarian and health efforts. We support the appeal of UN Secretary-General António Guterres for a global ceasefire and his call to put human rights at the centre of all measures to fight COVID-19. To fight authoritarian tendencies in responses to the pandemic, Sweden is strengthening its efforts to promote democracy, human rights and the rule of law around the world through its Drive for Democracy. Sweden is also working to fight rumours and disinformation around the COVID-19 virus in cooperation with the EU and other actors.

Sweden’s response is based on international law, including human rights, and on democracy, equality, gender equality and the rule of law. In all contexts, Sweden promotes open, transparent, responsible and evidence- and results-based management of the pandemic. Support is directed at the weakest and most vulnerable countries and groups.

The pandemic has made us all aware of vulnerabilities in our societies. Looking forward, Sweden is a strong advocate for building back better and greener. The massive government investments across the world to alleviate the economic crisis caused by the pandemic provide an opportunity to accelerate implementation of the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda and thereby ensure a green, healthy, and inclusive recovery. Our policy response can draw on lessons learned from the vulnerabilities exposed and ensure a whole-of-government approach that embraces climate action, biodiversity, health and gender.

COVID-19-specific support

In addition to core support to international funds, programmes and organisations, Sweden allocated SEK 1.86 billion to COVID-19-specific support in 2020, and an additional SEK 673 million to address indirect consequences of the pandemic, primarily for humanitarian assistance.

This includes SEK 40 million to WHO’s Contingency Fund for Emergencies (CFE), SEK 100 million to the Global Fund, SEK 100 million to the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), SEK 50 million to the World Health Organization Regional Office for Africa (WHO/AFRO), SEK 50 million to the UN COVID-19 Response and Recovery Multi-Partner Trust Fund (COVID-19 MPTF) and SEK 30 million to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust. An initial grant of SEK  100 million to COVAX to support global access to vaccines against COVID-19 in 2020 was doubled in February 2021 to SEK  200 million.

In 2020, Sida allocated approximately SEK 1 500 million for COVID-19-specific support (this amounts to approximately 6% of Sida’s total disbursements) to a range of initiatives to manage both the health response and broader socio-economic impact. Main sectors for support were social infrastructure, health, sexual and reproductive health and rights, humanitarian assistance, support to governments and civil society and access to energy, water and sanitation (WASH). A large proportion of the support was allocated to multilateral organisations, such as UNICEF, UNDP, UNFPA, WHO, UNOPS/Cities Alliance, IFAD and the World Bank.