The cooperation required to overcome COVID-19 revived interest in health’s geopolitical role, placing it firmly on the agenda at the upcoming G20 summit.
Heads of state from the world’s 20 biggest economies will discuss how best to prepare and protect people from the next pandemic as they meet for the G20 in Bali, Indonesia, this week.
Last month’s meeting between G20 health ministers outlined six key actions to be submitted for consideration for the summit on 15-16 November.
It includes continued work on a joint pandemic fund, genomic surveillance for future pathogens, establishing compatible travel certificates and better ways respond to pandemics.
“Even when the COVID-19 pandemic has ended, the health protocol standards still serve as a device to anticipate the next pandemic,” Indonesian Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin said.
In an interconnected world, a fractured approach to future health threats will leave us flat-footed again.
The impact is felt even deeper in vulnerable low-income countries relying on the capabilities of wealthier nations to provide vaccines and medicines.
“It’s heartbreaking that lives have been lost due to inequity in accessing life-saving tools,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization.
“This demonstrates the core purpose of a [Pandemic Accord] — committing to learning lessons, not repeating the same injustice again and saving more lives in future.”
The COVID-19 pandemic emphasised the links between health, foreign policy, trade and national security. It forced countries to cooperate to contain, vaccinate and protect their populations as dangerous pathogens easily spread through international travel.
Medical manufacturing capabilities and donations can be effective diplomatic tools to build influence and cement friendship now more than ever.
As we prepare ourselves for our next global outbreak, it remains to be seen if it can also lead to global power shifts.
Global health diplomacy addresses issues beyond national boundaries that required collective action. It considers health as an important element in foreign, security and trade policies.
An estimated 1.3 million lives could have been saved if COVID-19 vaccines were shared more equitably with lower-income countries in 2021, according to mathematical models from 152 countries.
The global distribution of vaccines was highly unequal — some countries had 90 percent coverage in adults, whereas others reached less than 2 percent by the end of last year. Some wealthier countries destroyed surplus vaccines, or rolled out plans to vaccinate low-risk children, while many poorer countries did not have enough to vaccinate high-risk populations.
A global COVID-19 vaccine alliance, known as COVAX, delivered more than 1.6 billion doses to lower-income countries since January 2021, helping bringing coverage of two vaccine doses up to 51 percent in developing nations, compared to the global average of 63 percent.
This quote is attributable to Erica Di Ruggiero, Garry Aslanyan and Ophelia Michaelides, University of Toronto:
“Effective global health diplomacy needs a diverse number of public, private and not-for-profit organisations and a recognition that sectors unrelated to health … have a direct impact on population health and equity.”
This quote is attributable to Renzo R. Guinto, St. Luke’s College of Medicine:
“The failure to ensure universal access to vaccines — especially in low- and middle-income countries — highlights some nations’ selfishness and ignoring global solidarity.”
This quote is attributable to Gerald Bloom, Institute of Development Studies, UK:
“There is hope for global cooperation. But a lack of trust and cooperation could substantially impair the ability to address these public health challenges.”