World Resilience Summit Galvanises Public-Private Solutions to Feed into Pandemic Accord Negotiations
Maria van Kerkhove, Priya Basu, Mary Mahy, Iveth J. González and Benjamin Roche.

 GENEVA – Global health conversations are much deeper at present because everyone has been affected by COVID-19 – and this opens up the possibility of building an “all-of-society” approach before the next pandemic, said Sylvie Brand, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Director of Epidemic and Pandemic Preparedness and Prevention.

“We have seen during this pandemic that it’s not enough to have doctors and nurses at the frontline. We need to bring on board politicians, academics, the private sector, civil society, faith-based organisations – everybody has a role to play,” said Brand during her keynote address to the Resilience Summit held alongside the World Health Assembly in Geneva.

“But this is not enough. We need also to make sure that we connect people because when the crisis starts, it’s very hard to build things from scratch.”

Her input came after leaders from the public and private sectors had discussed three different areas related to pandemics – prevention, preparedness and response – at the invitation-only summit hosted by the World Climate Foundation and the Geneva Health Forum. 

Stop the zoonotic spark

The pandemic prevention group, which had a strong contingent of One Health actors, felt that primary prevention had to focus on zoonotic spillover from animals to people.

“You have to start with the spark that can cause the fire, addressing the interface between animals and people,” said Jonathan Epstein, Vice-President of EcoHealth Alliance.

The group also called for the integration of climate change and biodiversity and health.

Collaborative surveillance and data-sharing dominated the discussion at the preparedness roundtable, which also stressed the importance of building trust and understanding. 

“We need the foundation – global, regional, national systems – for surveillance that is intentionally collaborative, that goes beyond the health sector,” said Dr Magda Robalo Correia e Silva, the Health Minister of Guinea-Bissau. 

She also said that preparing for an infectious disease outbreak or a pandemic must be rooted in communities and lived experiences of the people.  

The panellists also touched on how preventative measures like surveillance or data sharing don’t work in isolation. 

“It’s an ecosystem. It cannot be the data only or the tools only or the financing of the early warning system or political support. It’s an ecosystem that starts with the doctors, nurses who are in the frontlines. That’s where the [early warning] system gets triggered,” said Dr Nino Kharaishvili, Global Solutions Director of the health systems governance at Jacobs.

The group dealing with the pandemic response grappled with how data could be properly collected and shared to ensure that responses were timely and resources went to areas most in need. 

The World Bank’s Priya Basu, who heads the Pandemic Fund secretariat, said that applications for funding for the first round of the Fund’s disbursements were aimed at strengthening health systems in low and middle-income countries. Collaboration between government departments within countries, and between countries and donors had been a prerequisite for applicants.

The huge and growing shortages of health workers and a lack of trained personnel were also a substantial challenge.

“We need to deal with the global shortage of health workers and the poaching by high-income countries of health workers from low and middle-income countries. There are an estimated six million missing health workers in Africa,” said Philippe Guinot, Chief Technical Officer of IntraHealth.

A sticking point in pandemic accord discussions has been around how to share pathogen sequencing.

IFPMA’s Grega Kumer

“The rapid sharing of SARS-COV-2’s sequencing enabled the pharmaceutical industry to start developing vaccines, treatments and diagnostics in record time. The first vaccine was approved 326 days after the virus sequence was known. This sharing of data and information mustn’t be jeopardized in the future, and the principle needs to be kept in any solutions for pandemic preparedness,” said Grega Kumer, Deputy Director of Government Relations at the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA).

He added there had been cases where access to pathogens was either blocked or delayed because of access benefit-sharing agreements derived from the Nagoya Protocol, which led to delays in vaccine production. For instance, this has been the case for seasonal influenza, Ebola or Zika.

However, Yaunqiong Hu from Médecins sans Frontières appealed for community contributions to the development of vaccines to be valued, pointing out the contributions of residents of Guinea to the development of Ebola vaccines.

Meanwhile, Maria van Kerkhove, WHO’s Technical Lead on COVID-19, said that substantial capacity for surveillance had been built during the pandemic, but that transparency and data sharing were waning.

But “governments don’t want to find the next pandemic because of the disincentives”, she added, citing how South Africa had been slapped with travel bans after sharing the Omicron sequencing.

Misinformation undermining the ‘age of biology’

Chris Perez, head of International Programs at biotech company Concentric by Ginkgo

Chris Perez, head of International Programs at biotech company Concentric by Ginkgo, told the evening plenary how his company’s tracking of aeroplane wastewater had identified COVID-19 variants in the US significantly earlier than any other tracking body.

“We believe that the age of biology and the bio-economy hold the keys to enormous opportunities. across sectors for a more sustainable and resilient future for the world,” said Perez.

Biological risks arise from “humans encroaching on new environments and climate change” as well as the “accidental or intentional misuse of bioengineering”, warned Perez.

However, he also warned of social risks – particularly misinformation that undermined people’s faith in science.

“As most people know, in the United States, the COVID-19 response was very politically charged in a challenging environment and also involved the dangers of misinformation in public health,” said Perez. 

“We need resilient societies and governance structures and today’s information environment can compound biological risks. Trust and the truth must be core organising principles if we are to address this.”

The World Resilience Summit’s steering committee intends to draft recommendations for public-private partnerships in each of the three areas to “add value with public-private partnership solutions in the implementation of the upcoming pandemic treaty drafted by the WHO”.

(With inputs from Megha Kaveri)

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.