World Health Assembly: Focus on Pandemic Recovery
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, World Health Organization (WHO)
On Monday, May 24, the 74th World Health Assembly (WHA74) kicked off with WHO Member States convening, once again in a virtual setting, to set the global health agenda. In his opening remarks, WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus pointed to progress in fighting COVID-19 and honored healthcare workers for their efforts and sacrifice. But against the backdrop of the raging pandemic in India (which has 27 million COVID-19 cases and is now the new epicenter), Dr. Tedros focused more directly on the work that remains to get the pandemic under control. He called on countries to:
- Increase surveillance, testing, sequencing, and information-sharing
- Increase supplies needed to protect health workers
- Fight mis- and disinformation
- Empower people and communities to play their part
- Support businesses and workplaces to take steps to open up safely, where appropriate
- Implement national vaccination strategies, vaccinate those most at risk, and donate vaccines to COVAX
Specifically, Dr. Tedros called out inequities in the global vaccine response, noting the need for “a massive push to vaccinate at least 10 percent of the population of every country by September, and a ‘drive to December’ to achieve our goal of vaccinating at least 30 percent by the end of the year.” To achieve this goal, Dr. Tedros underscored the importance of sharing vaccine doses through the COVAX Facility, and called on manufacturers to “play their part” by giving COVAX first right of refusal on new volumes of vaccines or to commit 50 percent of their volumes to COVAX this year.
Consensus emerged around hosting a special WHO ministerial session at the end of the year on a proposed international treaty on pandemic preparedness. The treaty is intended to secure countries’ political commitment to fighting disease outbreaks and better coordinate the prevention, detection, and response to future pandemics. “We can only address [the system’s] fundamental weakness with a binding commitment between nations to provide a solid foundation for enhanced cooperation,” said Dr. Tedros. “A treaty on pandemic preparedness and response has been proposed as the means to achieve that.”
As a first step toward much needed international cooperation, on Monday, May 24, WHO and the Swiss Confederation announced their plan to launch the first WHO BioHub Facility for pathogen storage, sharing, and analysis. The goal of the WHO BioHub System is to sustain global preparedness against pathogens by facilitating rapid sharing of viruses and pathogens among laboratories globally.
WHA extends through Tuesday, June 1.
Earlier this month at the Global Health Summit, leaders of G20 and other states highlighted the “urgent need to scale up efforts, including through synergies between the public and private sectors and multilateral efforts, to enhance timely, global, and equitable access to safe, effective, and affordable COVID-19 tools (vaccines, therapeutics, diagnostics, and personal protective equipment.” The leaders established a set of voluntary principles, as part of the Rome Declaration, to guide global action. These address a range of areas, including global solidarity, equity, governance, putting people at the center of preparedness and equipping them to respond effectively, science and evidence-based policies, trust, and sustained financing for global health.
Rabin Martin at WHA74: “Ending the Pandemic – What Will It Take?”
On Tuesday, May 25, Rabin Martin hosted a virtual side event during WHA with renowned global health expert Laurie Garrett on “Ending the Pandemic: What Will It Take?” Rabin Martin CEO Robert L. Mallett engaged Laurie in a conversation on how the COVID-19 crisis continues to unfold and the unknowns that lie ahead – reflecting on all that has transpired since Rabin Martin Chairman Dr. Jeffrey L. Sturchio spoke with Laurie one year ago to discuss her predictions.
Robert and Laurie began the spirited discussion noting positive developments – namely, the unprecedented speed at which safe and effective treatments and vaccines have been developed. Robert commented that “Science has improved, knowledge has improved” and underscored the unprecedented cooperation amongst and across industries, including the pharmaceutical sector. Laurie highlighted greater accountability across the scientific, medical, and public health communities, where those who promote erroneous science are held to account: “science will not function in the same way it has in the past.” She also praised how quickly many organizations have been able to shift funding and meet the need for surge capacity.
However, the discussion pivoted quickly to continued and forthcoming challenges in pandemic response: “The bad news is that so many things that should have been accomplished by now have not been,” said Laurie. In particular, she criticized the lack of standardization of both COVID-19 tests and COVID-19 vaccines’ correlative immunity and efficacy as well as inadequate reporting mechanisms for infection and mortality rates. She asserted that global case counts are woefully inaccurate, including those in the U.S. (A recent analysis by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation estimates that more than twice as many people have died from COVID-19 than officially reported.)
The failure of leadership – at the global and national level – was a common theme, especially regarding inequitable vaccine distribution. Laurie commented: “We lacked the kind of international cooperation that could’ve put us in good stead…We’re falling into a trap of nationalism.” Pointing to the crisis in India, a country that is a major producer of vaccines “but cannot vaccine its own people,” Laurie stated: “We need solidarity, instead we’re getting a fragmented response.” She noted “rising tension and rage” in much of the world as too many countries go without necessary vaccines. And she highlighted the growing global shortages of the supplies needed to make vaccines – the same required to manufacture tests and treatments – calling the scramble for supplies a “Wild Wild West competition every day.”
Robert noted that the fundamental role of governments – to protect the health and lives of their citizens – may be fueling a rise in nationalism: “We’ve learned how wide the chasms are, the selfishness amongst nations” when it comes to protecting their citizens and asked what governments can do to foster cooperation and do a better job of dealing with the pandemic. Laurie responded that our challenge is recognizing and safeguarding global public goods: “Health is a public good…The days of pitting national public goods against global public goods are long gone. We’re all sharing risk whether we like it or not.”
Laurie contended that it is simply not enough to eliminate the virus in individual nations, cautioning that certain countries that were once heralded for their efforts to contain the virus (such as Japan, Korea, and Taiwan) are now imperiled. “If we are going to muddle through as humanity and come out as a safer planet… If we are going to be a planet where we can defy emerging diseases without huge death tolls and disproportionate tolls amongst the poorest, we’re going to need to work together.”
A recording of the event will be available next week.
Globally, 1,767,878,082 vaccines have been administered. The U.S. continues to make progress with mass vaccination campaigns: 50 percent of the total population has received at least one dose and 40 percent of the total population is fully vaccinated.
Global pandemic spread (Johns Hopkins University)
From the Experts
“After the pandemic is before the pandemic. We should be as well prepared as possible for the next one.”
Angela Merkel, Chancellor, Germany
Monday, May 24
“When the public health emergency of international concern was declared, most countries didn’t do very much…almost as if they were watching what was happening in [Wuhan] as if it was on Mars and wouldn’t happen to them, forgetting that we are so globally connected.”
Helen Clark, Co-Chair, The Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response
Monday, May 24
“We are on a good downward path, but we are not quite out of the woods yet. Cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are all declining because of the millions of people who have stepped forward and done their part to protect their health and the health of their communities to move us out of this pandemic.”
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Tuesday, May 25
“While multiple safe and effective vaccines against COVID-19 are now available, supply of these vaccines is still limited. So it is crucial that we optimize our vaccination strategies to protect the maximum number of vulnerable people.”
Dr. Richard Hatchett, Chief Executive Officer, CEPI
Wednesday, May 26
What We’re Reading
- Pandemic Treaty & Other New COVID Initiatives Grab Center Stage At World Health Assembly – Pokuaa Oduro-Bonsrah, Health Policy Watch
- This is the Wrong Way to Distribute Badly Needed Vaccines – Ezekiel J. Emanuel and Govind Persad, The New York Times
- Rural Black Communities Lose a Lifeline in the COVID-19 Pandemic – Olivia Goldhill, STAT News
- Hurting Healers: Covid-19’s Deadly Toll On India’s Doctors – Lipi Roy, Forbes
- What the Science Says About Lifting Mask Mandates – Lynne Peeples, Nature
Reports from International Governments and Bodies
- WHO COVID-19 Information and Guidance
- WHO Weekly Epidemiological Update: May 25
- WHO Weekly Operational Update: May 24
- 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
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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.
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