2020 has been a year like no other. COVID-19 has changed the world profoundly, with a death toll of over 1.6 million people and counting. The full extent of the pandemic’s impact – economic, social, health – will not be known for many years. What is clear today is that the coronavirus has reached nearly every corner of the globe, upended even the strongest health systems, and ravaged healthcare capacity.
Yet, as we close the year, there is reason for optimism. The past two weeks saw the first approvals of a vaccine against COVID-19 and high priority populations are already getting vaccinated. While rollout of vaccines will be a long journey, we now have the tools to get this pandemic under control.
During this unprecedented year, it is important to remember that other diseases and public health challenges did not press pause. As the pandemic raged on, tuberculosis, cancer, HIV/AIDS, and diabetes, among other conditions, continued to devastate communities, take lives, and strain health systems.
This week’s edition of Rabin Martin’s COVID-19 Briefing focuses on a few of the noteworthy successes in global health that were overshadowed by the pandemic. Our earlier COVID-19 Briefings are available here.
Editor’s note: This will be our last briefing until January 2021. We thank you for your readership as we worked to digest and distill a chaotic news cycle. We welcome your comments and suggestions for 2021; please contact us. Wishing you and yours a safe, restful, and healthy holiday season. Best wishes for the New Year!
The U.S. accounts for over 20 percent of global cases, reporting 17,000,408 cases and 307,770 deaths.
The COVID-19 pandemic has tested the world’s ability to cooperate and unite against a common, invisible foe. The level of cross-border and cross-industry collaboration has been unprecedented. The research and development process for vaccines is notoriously long, complex, and beset by failure. However, the pharmaceutical industry’s singular focus on defeating COVID-19 has already yielded safe and effective technologies in record time – a major accomplishment.
At the same time, the pandemic highlights the need for greater solidarity in preventing health emergencies and more sustained investment in global health security to ensure that the severe strain on health systems never happens again. Last week, the United Nations General Assembly declared that December 27 will be the “International Day of Epidemic Preparedness.” The resolution emphasizes the imperative to take steps today so that the world is better prepared to tackle the next public health crisis and make progress on other urgent health challenges.
Beyond the Pandemic: Persistent Public Health Challenges
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, World Health Organization
The direct health consequences of the coronavirus are reported widely, but the pandemic has also led to setbacks against other diseases. Here are a few notable examples.
- Risks of outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases are on the rise. Disruptions to routine vaccination programs threaten to put millions of children at risk. Measles and polio immunization campaigns were suspended in dozens of countries following COVID-19 risk mitigation recommendations. WHO reported earlier this year that 80 million children under one year of age live in a country that has experienced an upset to its immunization program due to limited access to health centers, low availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers, and fear of contracting COVID-19. In their annual letter, Bill and Melinda Gates asserted that COVID-19 has “[set] the world back about 25 years in 25 weeks” for progress made in routine immunization.
- Cancer research stalled and routine screenings plummeted. Scientists at the Institute of Cancer Research in London fear that the COVID-19 pandemic will delay advances in cancer by nearly 18 months. In a survey, they estimated that their work has been delayed by an average of six months, stemming from lab closures and other restrictions on capacity. In the U.S., an early analysis showed that appointments for cervical, colon, and breast cancer screenings were down between 86 percent and 94 percent in March, compared to rates over the past three years.
- Mental health services are down in spite of increased demand. According to a WHO survey of 130 countries, more than 60 percent reported disruptions to mental health services for vulnerable people, including children and adolescents, older adults, and pregnant and postpartum women. Thirty percent reported disruptions in access to medications for mental, neurological, and substance use disorders.
2020 Achievements: Despite it All, Progress in Certain Areas
While the year has seen many impediments to progress, there have been some impressive advances in science and medicine. Here are a few of our favorites.
- The African Region was certified as wild polio-free. After four years without a case of wild polio, on August 25, the Africa Regional Certification Commission declared that the continent was officially free of wild polio – a historic milestone. “Ending wild polio virus in Africa is one of the greatest public health achievements of our time and provides powerful inspiration for all of us to finish the job of eradicating polio globally,” said Dr. Tedros. Only Pakistan and Afghanistan continue to see active polio transmission.
- The world saw game-changing developments against HIV/AIDS. As the pandemic responsible for 1.7 million deaths at its peak in 2004, HIV/AIDS persists, with an estimated 38 million people living with HIV/AIDS globally. However, on November 9, ViiV Healthcare announced that its long-acting injectable antiretroviral drug cabotegravir was highly effective in preventing HIV acquisition, ultimately changing the standard of care for HIV prevention in women. In July, the European Medicines Agency announced its approval of the dapivirine vaginal ring for HIV prevention for women – developed by the International Partnership for Microbicides – another effective HIV prevention option.
- WHO member states adopted a new roadmap on neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). On November 12, at the resumed 73rd World Health Assembly, WHO announced that delegates had overwhelmingly endorsed a new roadmap for NTDs for 2021-2030. Building upon the London Declaration on NTDs, “Ending the neglect to attain the Sustainable Development Goals: a road map for neglected tropical diseases 2021–2030” outlines new targets for stakeholders to achieve over the course of the next decade, signaling a renewed and galvanized commitment to eliminate NTDs, such as Guinea worm disease, river blindness, schistosomiasis, and leprosy.
“Today marks the start of the fightback against our common enemy… This is just the start and we will steadily expand our vaccination program – ultimately helping everyone get back to normal life.”
Matt Hancock, U.K. Secretary of State for Health and Social Care
British citizen Margaret Keenan, 91, was the first person to receive the vaccine in the U.K.: “My advice to anyone offered the vaccine is to take it. If I can have it at 90, then you can have it too,” she said. Over 130,000 people have since been vaccinated in the U.K. In the U.S., Sandra Lindsay, an ICU nurse at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New York, was the first person to be vaccinated. “That was the goal today, not to be the first one to take the vaccine, but to inspire people who look like me, who are skeptical in general about taking vaccines,” said Ms. Lindsay, who is Black.
On Monday, December 15, the FDA announced its intention to authorize emergency use of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine by Friday, December 18. An FDA analysis confirmed Moderna’s assessment that the vaccine, mRNA-1273, had an efficacy rate of 94.1 percent. Today, December 17, the FDA’s Vaccine and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee is convening and is expected to vote to approve the vaccine for people over 18 years of age. Distribution of nearly six million doses could then begin as early as next Monday, December 21.
From the Experts
“The epidemic in the U.S. is punishing. It’s widespread. It’s, quite frankly, shocking to see one to two persons a minute die in the U.S., a country with a wonderful, strong health system and amazing technological capacities.”
Dr. Michael Ryan, Executive Director, Health Emergencies, World Health Organization
Monday, December 7
“I believe we all need to do a much better job recognizing the clear linkages between health and, for example, gender equality, or climate change, or the socioeconomic consequences we see with COVID-19.”
Loyce Pace, President and Executive Director, Global Health Council
Friday, December 11
“I would like to plead to people…to really hit the reset button on whatever they think they knew about this vaccine that might cause them to be so skeptical. The data is out there now… This is a very powerful outcome of this incredibly intense, year-long experience… I think all reasonable people — if they had the chance to put the noise aside and disregard all those terrible conspiracy theories — would look at this and say: I want this for my family, I want it for myself. People are dying right now.”
Dr. Francis Collins, Director, National Institutes of Health
Sunday, December 13
“I believe this is the weapon that will end the war.” (In reference to COVID-19 vaccines.)
Andrew Cuomo, Governor, New York State
Monday, December 14
“I want people to understand that I am very confident in this vaccine. And several people have said that they would get vaccinated if they saw I got vaccinated, and that’s the reason why I want to do that as quickly as we can.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease
Tuesday, December 15
“The Americas are no stranger to disease outbreaks…But this pandemic stands out in both scale and impact. And it has put a spotlight on two of the longstanding challenges of our region: inequality and underinvestment of our health systems. Latin America is one of the most unequal regions of the world, and COVID-19 exacerbated these inequalities.”
Dr. Carissa Etienne, Executive Director, Pan-American Health Organization
Wednesday, December 16
What We’re Reading
- Profile: Loyce Pace: equity, solidarity, and humility in global health – Aarathi Prasad, The Lancet
- Some Health Care Workers Are Getting the Vaccine. Others Aren’t. Who Decides? — Sabrina Tavernise and Will Wright, The New York Times
- Coronavirus vaccinations have started. But people in Africa face a much longer wait – Danielle Paquette and Max Bearak, The Washington Post
- ER Doctor Says He Walks Into A ‘War Zone’ Every Day – Nina Kravinsky and Kelley Dickens, NPR
- Four COVID-19 Lessons for Achieving Health Equity – Stuart Butler, JAMA
Reports from International Governments and Bodies
- WHO COVID-19 Information and Guidance
- WHO Weekly Epidemiological Update: December 15
- WHO Weekly Operational Update: December 14
- CDC Coronavirus Resource Page
- COVID-19 Health Systems Response Monitor
- NCD Alliance COVID resources relevant to NCDs
Funding and Policy Trackers
- International Monetary Fund Policy Tracker
- Kaiser Family Foundation Coronavirus Policy Tracker
- U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation Corporate Aid Tracker
- Devex Interactive Funding Tracker
Resource Pages and Market Research Literature
- JAMA Resource Center
- The Lancet COVID-19 Resource Centre
- 2019 Novel Coronavirus Research Compendium (NCRC)
- National Academy of Medicine COVID-19 News and Resources
- WIPO COVID-19 IP Policy Tracker
- The COVID Tracking Project
- PharmaIntelligence: Coronavirus – What will the Impact Be?
- Health Affairs Resource Center
- STAT News COVID-19 Tracker
- Global Health NOW’s COVID-19 Expert Reality Check
- International Association of National Public Health Institutes COVID-19 Resources
- Center for Strategic and International Studies The Reopening and Take as Directed Coronavirus Crisis Update Podcast
- Primary Health Care Performance Initiative Forum
- U.S. Global Leadership Coalition COVID-19 Issue Briefs
- Prevent Epidemics Weekly Science Review
- COVID-19 Watch Weekly Updates
For more information or should you have any questions, please contact us.
About Rabin Martin
Rabin Martin is a global health strategy firm working at the intersection of private sector capabilities and unmet public health needs. Rooted in our mission to improve health for underserved populations, we design strategies, programs and partnerships that both deliver public health impact and drive business results. We leverage our deep knowledge and networks across a wide range of geographies and health areas to develop tailored solutions for every client engagement. We have helped many clients create bold global health initiatives and innovative multi-sector partnerships. Our specific areas of expertise include infectious disease and vaccines, non-communicable diseases, rare diseases, maternal and child health, and universal health coverage. Our clients and partners include multinational health care companies, multilateral institutions, government agencies, large foundations and leading NGOs. Rabin Martin is part of the Omnicom Public Relations Group.
About Omnicom Public Relations Group
Omnicom Public Relations Group is a global collective of three of the top global public relations agencies worldwide and eight specialist agencies in public affairs, marketing to women, fashion, global health strategy and corporate social responsibility. It encompasses more than 6,000 public relations professionals in more than 330 offices worldwide who provide their expertise to companies, government agencies, NGOs and nonprofits across a wide range of industries. Omnicom Public Relations Group delivers for clients through a relentless focus on talent, continuous pursuit of innovation and a culture steeped in collaboration. Omnicom Public Relations Group is part of the DAS Group of Companies, a division of Omnicom Group Inc. that includes more than 200 companies in a wide range of marketing disciplines including advertising, public relations, healthcare, customer relationship management, events, promotional marketing, branding and research.