Ahead of the G7 Leaders’ Summit this weekend, global health has never been a more critical issue on the agenda. COVID-19 has exposed that the world was severely unprepared to respond to health emergencies, despite decades-long opportunities to prepare following previous disease outbreaks, such as H1N1 and Ebola. G7 commitments to emergency response and global health security now underpins its key policy priorities to lead global recovery from the coronavirus, alongside strengthening and building back better health systems. Global health is rightly at the top of the agenda and should remain so in a post-pandemic world.
The Communiqué released following the G7 Health Ministers’ meeting offered some encouraging signals on tackling key issues, such as the silent pandemic of antimicrobial resistance (AMR); global health security; and clinical trials, as well as how we can use digital technology as a means of tackling these challenges. Whilst the ambitious targets of the UK Presidency are welcome, it is key that other disease areas such as HIV, tuberculosis and malaria are not neglected. Moreover, considering the severe disruption to health service delivery and eradication gains due to COVID-19, the path towards UHC by 2030 and concurrent management of health threats must be a staple of recovery planning.
Aligning with the Communiqué and Boris Johnson’s 5-point plan to ‘protect humanity against another pandemic’ was the launch of a Global Pandemic Radar, in partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO) and Wellcome Trust. The Radar will bridge international partnerships to identify emerging COVID-19 variants and track new diseases around the world. Britain will also leverage its Presidency to push world leaders to establish a set of shared principles for clinical trials, to combat disjointed collaboration and output of research during the pandemic.
These concerted efforts to improve global surveillance and reinforce data sharing highlight their importance in monitoring and responding to health emergencies, while informing the development of and equitable access to diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines. To transform the fragmented testing landscape and elevate diagnostics from the weakest link in the care cascade, requires a comprehensive, fully-funded strategy and global collaboration, as set out in a call to action by FIND.
As we have witnessed, early and systematic testing is the lynchpin for pandemic preparedness and achieving global health security globally. World leaders must uphold global surveillance efforts to better ensure early detection and alert mechanisms, supporting governments to act decidedly when faced with the next health emergency.
In commitments made in the recent Rome Declaration, G20 leaders prioritised a One Health approach to build back better, calling for increased investment and cooperation to address the impending threat of AMR. Declared a top global health threat by the WHO, AMR is predicted to claim 10 million lives and cost $100 trillion annually as a result of inadequate interventions and urgent action is critical. This prioritisation of research and development for AMR is a welcomed addition on agenda, yet further details on how this will be achieved remain elusive. Leaders must therefore implement previous commitments to invest in research, information-sharing, and manufacturing towards developing antibiotics that can sufficiently address the most drug-resistant bacteria.
The lead-up to the Summit has also seen global leaders urge the G7 to help vaccinate the world by the end of 2022. Johnson has called for ‘stepping up the manufacture of vaccines, lowering barriers’ and ‘ultimately sharing surplus doses with developing countries bilaterally and through COVAX.’
COVID-19 has provided an overdue wake-up call on the need for global solidarity and investment to strengthen global health security. The G7 have it in their power to ensure these bold targets are met and their statements don’t again turn into solemn declarations – as we have seen too often before. We must not let this turning point pass us by.
Victoria Grandsoult and Jack Nagy