Geneva Health Forum Opening: Mix of National Solutions & International Cooperation Needed To Combat Pandemic
Ignazio Cassis, Head of the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, at the opening of the Geneva Health Forum.

A mix of strong national measures and international cooperation is needed to solve the COVID-19 pandemic – and the Geneva Health Forum (GHF), which opened on Monday, is showcasing examples of both, said Switzerland’s Foreign Affairs head Ignazio Cassis and Harsh Vardhan, Indian Minister of Health, speaking at the opening session of the three-day event (16-19 November)

“A coherent approach at the bilateral and multilateral level is needed,” said Cassis. “The GHF has a key role to play. A global crisis needs a global answer. By facing the crisis, we should think globally, act locally and help each other in the spirit of solidarity.” 

Harsh Vardhan, Indian Minister of Health & Family Welfare, at the opening session of the Geneva Health Forum.

“It is imperative to have a multifaceted approach towards collaborations at both the national as well as the international levels,” said Vardhan, Minister of Health and Family Welfare for India, which is co-hosting this year’s GHF event. “I believe that collaborative partnerships could play a pivotal role with inputs from various nations with respect to innovative solutions, supply chain systems, technology transfers, human resources, and more.”

With more than 54 million cumulative cases globally, COVID-19 has upended livelihoods, health systems and societies. But on the brighter side, it has also driven extensive, beneficial and potentially long-lasting changes to health care delivery systems, moving “high quality health care from hospitals into homes and communities,” said Vardhan.

He noted that India’s COVID strategy has emphasised decentralised solutions allowing innovation among individual states, while the shift of health care provision towards digital technologies, helping to strengthen response in the country that has been hard hit by the virus. India’s burden of 8.8 million reported COVID-19 cases is second only to the United States’ 11.1 million infections, so far. However, per capita India’s infection rate is in fact only about one-quarter as high insofar as India has a population of 1.3 billion people – as compared to 328 million for the USA. And India has had only about half as many deaths as the United States.

Map of incidence rate of COVID-19 globally, at 8pm CET, 16 November 2020.

Said Vardhan, “Our decentralized but unified mechanism to provide universal, accessible, equitable and affordable health care to one and all was the driving force behind our response strategy to COVID-19. In the interest of global knowledge sharing, India is willing to share its strategy and know-how.”

Universal health coverage, neglected tropical diseases, sustainable development goals, cancer, the impact of climate change are all to be discussed as major themes at the Forum. However COVID-19 – the reason behind the event’s move this year to a digital platform – will likely dominate conversation.

“COVID-19 has put the spotlight on the important and interdependent nature of public health. In fact, one third of the sustainable development goals (SDG) are health related, and SDG 3 – focusing on good health and wellbeing – is universal and underpins everything we do,” said Tatiana Valovaya, Director-General of UN Office at Geneva, another keynote speaker. “I believe that the participation of 1,600 stakeholders in this forum, connecting from 80 countries is a sure example of the type of inclusive and interconnected multilateralism that we need.”

Tatiana Valovaya, Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The goal of the GHF, co-organized by the Geneva University Hospitals (HUG) and the University of Geneva, is to create links between stakeholders, enable the sharing of collective intelligence, and discuss innovative solutions.

Other panelists at the opening session included: Nicole Rosset, Co-President of the Geneva Health Forum, Alexandra Calmy, Vice-Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Geneva, Shripad Yesso Naik, Indian Minister of State for Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, and Piyush Singh, Counsellor of the Embassy of India.

The Geneva Health Forum runs from 16-18 November. Follow Health Policy Watch’s coverage here and on Twitter.

Image Credits: Geneva Health Forum, Johns Hopkins.

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