Four COVID-19 Lessons and How to Make Humanity More Resilient
Tatiana Valovaya, Director-General of the United Nations Office at Genevai during World Humanitarian Day. 19 August 2019.
Tatiana Valovaya, Director-General of the United Nations Office at Genevai during World Humanitarian Day. 19 August 2019.

The COVID-19 pandemic blindsided most of the world as it swept from China across the world at an unprecedent pace, infecting, ultimately killing millions of people. But more than two years later, there are some lessons that can be learned, said Tatiana Valovaya, director-general of the United Nations in Geneva on Tuesday evening.

At the Opening Ceremony for the Geneva Health Forum, Valovaya delivered the four key takeaways from the pandemic for public health professionals. Her colleague, likewise, offered “concerned actions” that could be taken in at least five key areas to make humanity more resilient to future health threats.

In total, nine people addressed attendees during the opening ceremony, which drew over 1000 people and is the first major global health event hosted in Geneva since the pandemic began. The speakers included Valovaya; Antoine Geissbuhler and Véronique Maye, Geneva Health Forum’s co-presidents; Bertrand Levrat, CEO of the University Hospitals of Geneva; Mauro Poggia, minister of health, population and security for the state of Geneva; Jürg Lauber, Swiss ambassador and permanent representative to the Office of the United Nations in Geneva; Zsuzsanna Jakab, deputy director-general of the World Health Organization; Monique Eloit, director-general of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE); and Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

What lessons were learned?

1 – We live in a globalized world and are all interconnected and interdependent.

“We can only be as safe or as healthy as all other people around that world are,” said Valovaya. “That means we have to work in solidarity.”

2 – We can do a lot to improve environmental degradation.

This notion was supported by Eloit in her keynote address. “I will insist on how it is crucial to transform our relationship with the environment,” she said. “We need to move from response to prevention.”

3 – We have to fight inequality.

“During the pandemic, we saw that those who were very vulnerable were the first to suffer,” noted Valovaya. “We saw this with access to healthcare, vaccines and even clean water.”

4 – All of the challenges that humanity is facing are global.

“Global challenges need global solutions,” she said. “We need multilateralism that is inclusive and integrated. Only together can we find solutions.”

While the world continues to tackle COVID-19, something which Eloit stressed is “still ongoing, while we continue to face other challenges,” the international community must simultaneously fight the climate crisis, she said.

Dr. Zsuzsanna Jakab, Deputy Director-General of the World Health Organization, during the Annual high-level discussion on human rights mainstreaming. 43rd session of the Human Rights Council , Palais des Nations, Geneva, Switzerland, February 24, 2020.
Dr. Zsuzsanna Jakab, Deputy Director-General of the World Health Organization, at the Palais des Nations, Geneva, Switzerland, February 24, 2020, in one of the last face-to-face UN meetings before the COVID pandemic.

Thirteen million people die from preventable environmental factors

WHO estimates that 13 million people die every year as a result of preventable environmental factors and that 90% of the global population breathes unhealthy air, Jakab noted.

“Concerted action is needed across at least five key areas to make humanity more resilient to future health threats,” she stressed.

The first is understanding that health is not negotiable. The second is the need to shift from health systems focused purely on treating diseases to health systems focused on disease prevention and health promotion.

Next, equity is not a ‘nice to have’.

“The vulnerability of one single nation makes the whole world more vulnerable to disease threats,” she said, echoing Valovaya’s sentiments. “We must move from a fragmented health architecture to a cohesive architecture with stronger governance, financing and tools.

Finally, we must shift from a siloed, sectored approach to human health to a One Health approach, said Jakab.

One Health was defined in December 2021 by the inter-agency One Health High-Level Expert Panel (OHHLEP) as “an integrated, unifying approach that aims to sustainably balance and optimize the health of people, animals and ecosystems. It recognizes the health of humans, domestic and wild animals, plants, and the wider environment (including ecosystems) are closely linked and inter-dependent.

It was a major focus of the first day of the Geneva Health Forum.

“OHHLEP’s goal is to move One Health from concept to practice,” Eloit stressed in her talk, which helped culminate the formal opening ceremony. In the morning, the opening panel was on “One Health: is there a paradigm shift?”

“We all have a role to play,” concluded Eloit. “We have a responsibility to make tomorrow safer than today.”

This is part of a Health Policy Watch series of stories on feature themes at the 2022 Geneva Health Forum. Supported by a grant from the Canton of Geneva.

Image Credits: Flickr.

Combat the infodemic in health information and support health policy reporting from the global South. Our growing network of journalists in Africa, Asia, Geneva and New York connect the dots between regional realities and the big global debates, with evidence-based, open access news and analysis. To make a personal or organisational contribution click here on PayPal.