Covid-19 after-effect: Health diplomacy needs an update

Ministries of foreign affairs across nations must deploy health attachés for the greater diplomacy and shared interests, to tackle the coming health crises

Dr. Edmond Fernandes
Updated: Jul 26, 2021 05:23:41 PM UTC

Dr. Edmond Fernandes is a community health physician and CEO, CHD Group – a public health organization headquartered at Mangalore, India. He is also a Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council in Washington DC and a Consultant – United Nations Economic and Social Commission for the Asia and the Pacific in Bangkok. Being an Alumnus of the US Department of State, Dr. Edmond has published several books, written columns in national press and travels around the world on commitments of global health and development. He can be reached on office@edmond.in

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Image: Shutterstock

Nothing has influenced global health diplomacy and international relations as decisively as Covid-19. This has spurred world faith that if we need to re-emerge from the ashes of lockdowns, we need to apply moral prescriptions of public health and regional cooperation to build a future that includes all.

The craft of global health diplomacy must inform the international world order. A balance of power and furtherance of ideals should not depend on nuclear determinants of countries or military alliances, but rather on collective global health security and public health in all policies. The world at large faces cascading risks that require new algorithms to address them. The risks faced from extreme weather events, natural disasters, climate change, migration, refugee crises and overall public health consequences are far too serious to handle and an even greater threat to humanity than economic and strategic cooperation.

Need for 'Health Attachés' at embassies around the world
Foreign ministries must embrace global health challenges as a necessary ingredient to shape their protection and civilian interests. Setting up health attachés would enable countries to network on shared data, work with humanitarian organisations, interface bilateral diplomatic programmes in the development sector, open further windows of assistance among two or more nations and further international global health co-operation. For too long, countries have been trying to establish 'Honorary consuls' but it would be wiser for foreign governments to appoint health attachés to their embassies by identifying local talent. Today, our world appears torn between obsessive insecurity and proselytising zeal, between requirements in trade and defence against the temptations of global public health in the quest for new world order. With artificial intelligence penetrating health innovation, and diseases assuming transboundary nature, visionary government offices and external affairs ministries must urgently set up diplomatic protocols factoring in health attachés.

Health attachés need not go through formal diplomatic training as the perspective of a health attaché will be built on evidence-based public health thereby leading to a risk-informed solution that benefits governments and regional neighbours.

Managing change, furthering scientific diplomacy
Healthcare remains a cornerstone to human survival and progress. This pandemic is a reason for optimism and innovation provided we are humble enough to listen and learn. Positioning health attaches presents an opportunity for wise nations to be grateful, to be faithful under all circumstances, to create generous bilateral cooperation and help public health science around the world leapfrog and to promote even interests in the long term as a unified world order. This would also in a way help negotiate legitimacy in pharmaceuticals, support translational and inter-disciplinary science, promote medical and health tourism, build inter-sectoral coordination among non-government actors and also foster world-class diplomacy that can be of strategic interests in a shared future.

Positioning a country prepared to manage change and sending its officials to foreign missions open to flexibility requires an unmatched diplomatic value and also one that is built on vision instead of a historical imperative of the past. Additionally, implementing skilled global health diplomacy requires understanding that failures in many evidence-based public health initiatives can be real. Building the narrative on prudence, where convergence is possible, new algorithms are achievable and that new principles of public health can be implemented with fresh zeal, makes for useful conversations that embassies worldwide can cultivate.

There has been much advancement in science and healthcare. Ministries of foreign affairs across every nation must start to deploy health attachés in every embassy and consulate for the greater diplomacy and shared interests for one health, one world.

The writer is a community health physician and CEO of CHD Group.

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