The World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday launched a global collaboration against COVID-19 with leaders from France, Germany and the EU among others.

"Today, WHO is proud to be uniting with many partners to launch the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator, or the ACT Accelerator," said the WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

"This is a landmark collaboration to accelerate the development, production and equitable distribution of vaccines, diagnostics, and therapeutics for COVID-19," he said at the event which drew representatives from the public, private, and non-governmental sectors.

The event was co-sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the world's largest non-profit organization.

The aim of the collaboration was explained by Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, who will lead a pledging conference on May 4.

Von der Leyen said: "This campaign is to kick off an ongoing rolling replenishment. The aim is to raise €7.5 billion [$8 billion] to ramp up work on prevention diagnostics and treatment. And this is a first step, only, but more will be needed in the future."

She invited "everyone, governments, business leaders, philanthropists, artists, and citizens to raise awareness about the pledging effort and to help create a united front against the novel coronavirus.

Absent from the video conference from around the world were leaders from China, where the novel coronavirus first appeared late last year, and also the United States.

France's President Emmanuel Macron said: "I would like to pay tribute to the healthcare workers who were fighting against COVID-19 every day, as well as to the researchers that are working around the world either from the public sector or the private sector and also to those from the humanitarian sector, from the United Nations or those from NGOs."

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who is the current chair of the African Union, said: "The world needs solidarity and cooperation to mobilize and guide, all efforts and drive delivery towards equitable access to new COVID-19 diagnostics therapeutics and vaccines."

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said: "The world needs the development, production and equitable delivery of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine, therapeutics and diagnostics.

"Not a vaccine or treatments for one country or one region or one-half of the world, but a vaccine and treatment that are affordable, safe, effective, easily-administered and universally available, for everyone, everywhere. None of us is safe until all of us are safe."

Germany's Angela Merkel noted that there were some countries in which the COVID-19 virus had been particularly virulent.

"We will have to develop new methods, trying new approaches, globally, for example, to ramp up the production capacities in many different countries around the world."

The novel virus has claimed more than 191,000 lives globally and infected an upward of 2.72 million others, according to US-based Johns Hopkins University.