Could we have prevented the COVID-19 pandemic? This question has haunted policymakers and public health institutions since the coronavirus took hold six months ago and began upending daily life nearly everywhere in the world. Some experts argue that if we had invested the resources required to build strong health systems globally, the pandemic’s devastating impact would be much less severe. Others contend that a pandemic of this magnitude would have stressed even the most resilient health systems.
As certain countries begin to get their epidemics under control (at least the first wave), others are in the early stages of their response. The pandemic is spreading rapidly to regions in Africa and Latin America – Brazil is the latest epicenter and already accounts for close to 10 percent of the global death toll. Concerns are escalating about the lack of preparedness, and the world is watching to see how these health systems will be able to withstand the pressures of COVID-19 while maintaining other critical primary health services. Further, countries are now facing another pressing concern: how to balance the need for economic recovery against the cost of containing the relentless spread of the virus.
“Global health security” has emerged as an urgent topic among the international community, as policymakers and public health officials race to protect the health of their citizens and prepare for future outbreaks. While immediate action to save lives today must be the top priority, the need to think longer-term is paramount to ensure the world is better prepared to respond to future crises – or to avert them altogether.
This week’s edition of Rabin Martin’s COVID-19 Briefing focuses on global health security and its role in safeguarding community well-being and national health. How could we have prioritized global health security and saved hundreds of thousands of lives? What will it take to break the cycle of panic and neglect and prevent the next pandemic? We also examine the latest epidemiological trends – recognizing that the pandemic is far from over. Please find our earlier COVID-19 Briefings here.
Global Health Security: A COVID-19 Countermeasure
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, World Health Organization
In recent years, the world has seen the total collapse of health systems from epidemics. For example, in West Africa in 2014-15, Ebola decimated the public health infrastructure and workforce capacity across Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone. Economic recovery was slow, and the economic losses have been estimated at $53 billion.
In February 2014, a coalition of governments and international organizations established the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA) – a collaborative network to address threats to public health around the world, especially infectious diseases. The initiative’s core focus is helping countries detect, prevent, and respond to emerging health crises by highlighting gaps at the national level through a process of Joint External Evaluation. Following such evaluation, the 69 member nations are encouraged to adopt GHSA action packages to build capacity in areas such as biosafety, antimicrobial resistance, surveillance, immunization, and laboratory systems. The goal is to protect against the kind of devastating loss of human life and crippling economic consequences experienced during Ebola and other epidemics.
However, too many countries, including the United States, remain underprepared to fight today’s pandemic. The Global Health Security Index – a comprehensive assessment of 195 countries’ global health security capabilities published in 2019 – indicates that even those with the most sophisticated health systems are ill-equipped to prevent, respond to, and mitigate epidemics.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a spotlight on this this global failing. “In a globalized world, diseases know no borders, and global preparedness for the health security risk that comes with that is one of the great challenges of our time, that, like other great challenges, can only be solved collectively,” said Roland Driece, Chair, Global Health Security Agenda and Director of International Affairs, Netherlands Ministry of Health.
Investing in global health security has never been more critical, and some U.S. policymakers are advocating for greater leadership. In late May, U.S. Senators Ben Cardin, Chris Murphy, and James Risch introduced the Global Health Security and Diplomacy Act of 2020, which proposes the nomination of a global health security coordinator and $3 billion in funding for global health security between fiscal years 2021 and 2025.
Similarly, regions with historically under-developed health systems have begun aligning with the GHSA. In 2017, as part of strengthening global health security, African Union Member States recognized the need for an African institution that prevents, detects, and responds to public health threats and established the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. On Thursday, June 4, they launched the Partnership to Accelerate COVID-19 Testing (PACT) – a new initiative to increase testing to 10 million people over four months, deploy one million community health workers, and train 100,000 health workers. After the acute crisis subsides on the continent, these investments will support longer-term health system resiliency.
On Thursday, June 18, at 11:00 am ET, the Private Sector Roundtable (PSRT) for Global Health Security will join Devex for a conversation around the critical need to build resilient health systems to counter global threats like SARS, Ebola, and COVID-19. The conversation, “Between Pandemics: Global health security, universal health coverage, and the role of the private sector,” will bring together global health experts from industry and the Africa CDC to take stock of current efforts to strengthen and prepare health systems for public health crises. Click here to register.
Private Sector Insights
An In-depth Look at Global Health Security with Dr. Alan Tennenberg, Johnson & Johnson
Through the establishment of the Private Sector Roundtable (PSRT) for Global Health Security, the private sector has demonstrated its commitment to contributing its unique expertise and resources to help countries prevent and prepare for health crises at the local, national, and global levels. (Rabin Martin is the Secretariat for the PSRT. Read more about the PSRT here.)
Alan Tennenberg is Chief Medical Officer, Global Public Health, Johnson & Johnson, and Co-Chair of the PSRT.
Q: Why is it important for the private sector to be engaged on matters of global health security?
A: The COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced that the response to infectious disease emergencies needs to be multisectoral and that the private sector plays a critical role. This is true for supply chain, manufacturing, vaccine development, food supply, transportation, or any other industry. We also need to consider and promote private sector engagement in health security preparedness. The private sector brings skills and capabilities that strengthen the efforts of governments and multilaterals in the preparedness sphere.
Q: What do you see as the most important role for the private sector to be playing as part of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic?
A: The private sector has a critical role in all aspects of the COVID-19 response. Some are easy to see, like vaccine and diagnostic development or the huge logistical effort required to get personal protective equipment (PPE), ventilators, and even trained responders to where they are needed most. Some are less obvious, but no less important. Don’t forget the critical role that the private sector can play in getting public health messages out to employees. Every industry has a role and it’s vital to keep the private sector engaged during and in between response efforts.
Q: What innovations are you seeing from the private sector?
A: I think the speed at which vaccines and countermeasures are being developed is unprecedented. I’m seeing examples of extraordinary collaboration on supply chain. I’ve also been impressed by companies that have rebooted their production lines to make everything from PPE to ventilators to hand sanitizer. All of these efforts demonstrate a committed and innovative response from the business community.
Q: Where would you like to see better collaboration between the public and private sectors to accelerate the fight against COVID-19? How can we maintain this collaboration for the long-term?
A: I would like to see this tremendous level of collaboration carried through even after the COVID-19 pandemic subsides. Before the next inevitable emergency strikes, the private sector should be working with governments, multilateral agencies, academia, civil society, foundations, and other partners to put in place frameworks that will help the world be better prepared and respond faster in the future.
I urge companies to consider joining the PSRT, the Pandemic Supply Chain Network, and other coalitions that support multisectoral efforts to strengthen global health security. The PSRT is rather unique given the trust we have built through transparent partnerships over the past five years which has enabled us to work closely with government, multilateral, and NGO partners during the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Thursday, June 11, as of 11:00 am ET, Johns Hopkins University reported 7,414,050 confirmed cases and 417,514 deaths attributed to COVID-19, globally. The epidemic reached a new peak in the U.S. surpassing 2 million cases. There have been 2,003,930 confirmed cases and 113,038 deaths, more than twice as many as any other nation.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, World Health Organization
Global COVID-19 Cases (Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering)
Research is showing that unprecedented shutdowns and other restrictions on social and economic mobility have been effective in halting the exponential spread of COVID-19. On Monday, June 8, researchers found that continuing anti-contagion policies substantially reduced the number of COVID-19 infections – by an estimated 60 million infections in the U.S. and 285 million infections in China. A separate study by researchers at Imperial College London suggests that such restrictions saved over three million lives in 11 European countries and reduced infection rates by an average of 82 percent.
In contrast, Sweden, which decided against a nation-wide shutdown and was viewed as providing a “middle ground” approach, has seen its epidemic swell, resulting in one of the world’s highest mortality rates.
Anders Tegnell, State Epidemiologist, Sweden
On Monday, June 8, WHO reported that the number of new daily cases of COVID-19 hit a new high on Sunday, June 7. With the global case count exceeding seven million, WHO warned that the pandemic appears to be worsening in several countries (three-quarters of new cases came from just 10 countries) and that governments must avoid complacency. In the U.S., at least 9 states have seen spikes since Memorial Day, when many began lifting social distancing requirements. Since the start of June, 15 states and territories have reported the highest daily case rate since the pandemic began.
Still, hope remains that the world will curtail further catastrophe. On Monday, June 8, New Zealand announced it had eliminated transmission of COVID-19. Following 75 days of strict social distancing, the country lifted all social and economic restrictions, except for border controls.
“I doubt we’re going to have one vaccine, to win the race that everyone is talking about. I think in the end we’re going to benefit from having more than one vaccine.”
Julie Gerberding, Executive Vice President & Chief Patient Officer, Strategic Communications, Global Public Policy, and Population Health, Merck & Co., Inc.
From the Experts
“I’ve been saying for decades that my worst nightmare is the evolution of a new infection that jumps species easily from an animal model to a human that’s a respiratory virus, because those are the ones that can spread easily, and that it is highly efficient in its ability to spread from person to person, and that it has a high degree of morbidity and mortality. Here we are, folks. My worst nightmare.”
Anthony Fauci, Director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease
Monday, June 8
“While the job is not done, there is no denying this is a milestone … Thank you, New Zealand.”
Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister, New Zealand
Monday, June 8
“More than six months into this pandemic, this is not the time for any country to take its foot off the pedal. This is the time for countries to continue to work hard, on the basis of science, solutions and solidarity.”
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, World Health Organization
Monday, June 8
“The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed our region to the limit. Our communities and health systems are under duress, and our collective efforts are laser focused on containing the virus.”
Carissa Etienne, Director, Pan American Health Organization
Tuesday, June 9
Reports from International Governments and Bodies
- WHO COVID-19 Information and Guidance
- WHO Situation Reports, June 8, June 9, June 10
- 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 Preparedness Tool
- International Association of National Public Health Institutes COVID-19 Resources
- Primary Health Care Performance Initiative Forum
- U.S. Global Leadership Coalition COVID-19 Issue Briefs
- Prevent Epidemics Weekly Science Review
What We’re Reading
- I Fought Two Plagues and Only Beat One – Philip Ozuah, The New York Times
- Even In A Pandemic, WHO Believes That Public Protests Are Important – Pien Huang and Allison Aubrey, National Public Radio
- ‘Enormous Disparities’: Coronavirus Death Rates Expose Brazil’s Deep Racial Inequalities – Dom Phillips, The Guardian
- COVID-19 Proves We Need More Than Strong Health Systems – Richard Reithinger, RTI International
- Past Epidemics Underscore Importance of Mental Health Amid COVID-19 – Elana Gordon, The World
- Coronavirus Vaccine Candidates’ Pivotal U.S. Testing to Start This Summer – Peter Loftus, The Wall Street Journal
- Chronicle of a Pandemic Foretold: Learning From the COVID-19 Failure – Before the Next Outbreak Arrives – Michael Osterholm and Mark Olshaker, Foreign Affairs
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.