Health Leaders Plea Against ‘Flash In The Pan’ Attitude to Global Cooperation, As World Health Summit 2020 Closes
World Health Summit closing session- top global health leaders including Peter Sands (The Global Fund), Henrietta Fore (UNICEF), Jeremy Farrar, (The Wellcome Trust), Muhammad Pate (World Bank), Detlev Ganten, World Health Summit, and Mohammad Pate (World Bank); Marison Touraine (UNITAID) and Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (WHO) share views on a post-COVID future with Ilona Kickbusch, former head of Geneva Graduate Institute’s Global Health Centre.

New modes of interagency collaboration triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic should be used as a model to advance more progress, post-pandemic, on important Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) related to health, said a group of top international agency leaders in Tuesday’s closing session of the World Health Summit.

The three-day summit, which featured 310 speakers at 53 sessions, drew more than 6,000 participants from more than 100 countries – despite being shifted from its usual Berlin venue to a virtual platform as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While sessions naturally saw a huge focus on the pandemic, other panels also reflected on a wide variety of topics ranging from climate and health to neglected tropical diseases and women in the health workforce.

At this, the concluding panel, leaders at the World Health Organization, UNICEF, The World Bank, The Global Fund and Unitaid, which had signed on last year to an ambitious Global Action Plan for Healthy Lives and Well-being (GAP) to accelerate progress on health- related SDGs, talked about how plans had both been upended and advanced by the pandemic.

The Global Action Plan, including 12 multilateral health and humanitarian agencies in total, aims to accelerate progress on the SDGs by improving inter-agency coordination, streamlining international support offered to countries. and thereby reducing inefficiencies in the delivery of health services and programmes on the ground.

Panellists underlined that some of the active cooperations between agencies that have been launchd around the pandemic, like the WHO-coordinated  Access to COVID-19 Tools Acclerator – should help advance the GAP’s overall aims – although they were scarce on the details of immediate plans.  The so-called ACT Accelerator has brought together leading health agencies around three core initiatives to develop, procure and distribute COVID-19 tests, treatments and vaccines, when they become available.

“We need to seize the opportunity to feedback what we’ve learnt through the ACT Accelerator,” said Peter Sands, Executive Director of The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The ACT Accelerator is a collaborative programme established by WHO to provide equitable access to COVID-19 tests and vaccines globally.

Sands added that countries must work together to ”ensure that these changes aren’t a flash in the pan” and to “turn the fight against COVID-19 into a moment for rethinking the role of health in society and the economy.”

Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, said that post-pandemic, the Global Action Plan can pick up where the ACT Accelerator leaves off, to sustain the new forms of global health collaboration that have been forged by crisis.

But he added that  countries also have an “absolute responsibility” to invest in health systems, adding that, “the neglect and undermining of institutions has been part of the build up to the COVID-19 pandemic, including in very rich ones.”

The panellists also touched on the overwhelming amount of attention the pandemic has demanded, highlighting a disparity in the support provided for countries with high rates of other infectious diseases.

“We need to use the way we have responded to COVID-19 as a catalyst,” said Sands.  He pointed out that while COVID-19 deaths rates are rising higher and higher, it remains unclear if the pandemic will really outpace the burden of TB, traditionally the world’s most deadly infectious disease, or not.  And at the same time, TB surveillance is so much weaker than what has already been put in place for the pandemic, that the final answer won’t be apparent for some time to come.

“[Either] TB or COVID-19 will be the biggest infectious disease killer in the world,” said Sands. “We will know within 99-99.5% accuracy, on January 1st how many people died of COVID-19 in 2020. To get that number for TB, we will probably wait until October 2021.”

Summit Declaration by Leading Health Research Institutes Calls For Patent Waivers and Debt Relief in Pandemic Wake

M8 Alliance that supports the World Health Summit annual event.

Also on closing day, the M8 Alliance of public health education and research institutions, issued a Summit Declaration calling upon global policymakers to take more radical action to level the playing ground on access to needed COVID-19 health products – through measures such as patent “waivers” for the duration of the emergency – a proposal recently debated at the World Trade Organization’s TRIPS Council  (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights).

The call by the Alliance of prominent public health institutions from around the world, also called upon the G7 and the G20 groups of industrialized countries to enact measures that would bring significant debt relief to poor countries hard hit by the “economic COVID”:

“The corona pandemic is not a single-issue pandemic – it is a syndemic, impacting on societies in a multitude of ways, uncovering deep inequalities and structural disadvantages,” stated the manifesto.

“To stem the pandemic not only “at home” but everywhere the global community must use every tool at its disposal throughout the multilateral system to leave no-one behind,” it stated, adding,

“There can be no health security without social security and access to health services and medicines. This includes TRIPS waivers through the World Trade Organisation for COVID-19 therapeutics, diagnostics and vaccines as requested by a group of countries. The World Health Summit stands by its commitment to equity in global health.

“The required COVID19 responses range far beyond the global health organisations – they require determined decisions by political bodies such as the G7 and the G20, financial institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank and many other development banks. Financing global health action has already reached new dimensions – it requires billions not millions.

“Equitable distribution of a COVID19 vaccine through the COVAX mechanism is estimated at $US 35 billion. But other short-term financing measures are also required, such as debt cancellation for the poorest countries. The world is paying the price for the lack of investment in preparedness and sustainable financing models.”

The M8 alliance includes the Baltimore-baed Johns Hopkins-Bloomberg School of Public Health, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Geneva University Hospitals and the Geneva Graduate Institute, along with other institutional counterparts in the USA, Japan, Uganda, Iran, Singapore, Australia and elsewhere.

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