G20: Are we prepared for inevitable global health crises?

Covid-19 exposed the vulnerabilities of our global health systems. Can global leaders use platforms like the G20 summit to strengthen the information exchange among countries and build infrastructure to handle the next health crisis?

Updated: Sep 6, 2023 04:24:54 PM UTC
Image: Shutterstock

The G20 health ministers, in their declaration in Gandhinagar, Gujarat, reaffirmed their commitment to Global Health Architecture to build more resilient, equitable, sustainable and inclusive health systems, especially in Low- and Middle-income Countries (LMICs) and Small Island Developing states.

The Covid-19 pandemic had a long-lasting impact on society, the economy, and our way of life. The pandemic caused over six million deaths, disrupted supply chains, and led to widespread economic hardship, resulting in a drop of 3.4 percent in the global gross domestic product in 2020.

Covid-19 also exposed the vulnerabilities of our global health systems, sliding back from many gains on human development during the MDG [Millennium Development Goals] era, and the urgency to enhance investments for global health preparedness has never been more apparent. The pandemic served as a wake-up call, demonstrating the critical importance of investing in health systems and primary healthcare. G20 has a major role in harnessing the renewed global collaboration to eliminate some of the diseases of poverty, such as tuberculosis and several neglected tropical diseases, so health systems can focus effectively on the major challenges for assuring Universal Health Coverage by 2030.

Strengthening surveillance systems for early detection

In the realm of health emergency preparedness, robust digital surveillance systems stand as crucial pillars, empowering us to detect and prevent outbreaks before they spiral into global epidemics or pandemics. Timeliness is paramount in containing the spread of infectious diseases, and real-time data analysis is pivotal in achieving this goal. By implementing such systems, we can swiftly identify unusual patterns, spot emerging threats, and take immediate action to curb their impact.

To fortify our health preparedness arsenal, we need to invest in advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), as they have the potential to revolutionise outbreak detection and provide us with accurate and swift insights that can save countless lives. According to research, machine learning algorithms perform on par with and outperform human specialists in certain cases. Deep learning algorithms exhibit a sensitivity of 87.0 percent and a specificity of 92.5 percent, while human physicians demonstrate a sensitivity of 86.4 percent and a specificity of 90.5 percent.

Collaborating for global health security

No country can address global health threats alone. As the world gets increasingly interconnected and diseases spread rapidly across borders, countries will need to work together to prevent, detect, and respond to public health threats. In the face of the growing complexities of global health security, collaborative efforts are necessary and imperative.

To further strengthen our collaborative endeavours, it is imperative to strengthen the Global Genomic Pool, enabling efficient sharing and analysis of virus RNA patterns. By establishing a robust platform for global data exchange, scientists and health experts can swiftly identify and track the evolution of pathogens, allowing for timely interventions and tailored responses to protect populations worldwide.

The best example of this kind of collaboration is the groundbreaking alliance that brought together governments, pharmaceutical companies, and other stakeholders from around the world to accelerate the development, production, and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines to ensure that everyone in the world had access to them. By sharing data and resources, researchers could move more quickly through the development process, resulting in increased production and equitable distribution.

Also Read: The Indian healthcare industry is at a crossroads. Here's how it can go to the next level

Beyond data sharing, addressing intellectual property issues and ensuring equitable access to vaccines and therapeutics is crucial to collaborative global health security. Resolving intellectual property challenges and fostering international agreements that prioritise equitable access can break down barriers, enabling affordable and timely access to essential medical tools for all.

Leveraging platforms like the G20 and G7 summits becomes vital to lay a strong foundation for pandemic preparedness. These global forums present an opportunity for world leaders to come together and establish shared priorities and agreements regarding global health. Through these platforms, we can prioritise investments in health infrastructure, enhance research and development capacities, and foster a resilient healthcare system that can effectively respond to pandemics.

Investing in impact 

Sustainable and substantial increased health financing is critical to tackle pressing challenges and achieve meaningful impact. Domestic and international health financing needs to be oriented towards health systems, particularly for PHC and supporting communities. This would facilitate achieving Universal Health Coverage (UHC) and help countries achieve SDG 3 on health outcomes.

Public-private partnerships play a crucial role in sustainable health financing, leveraging the strengths of both sectors to address complex health issues. Collaborations between governments, businesses, and non-profit organisations can foster innovation, promote efficiency, and generate sustainable funding streams. In India, Indonesia, Brazil and South Africa, four of the successive Presidencies of G20, these partnerships have addressed accessibility and affordability problems in rural healthcare.

We must also explore innovative models that attract private investments and ensure long-term support for global health initiatives. By aligning financial incentives with health outcomes, we can create a sustainable ecosystem where private investors contribute to the advancement of global health while also securing financial returns.

Revolutionising health preparedness for an unpredictable future

To effectively address and navigate these uncertain times, as demonstrated during the Covid-19 times, it is crucial to embrace innovative approaches and revolutionize health preparedness.

First and foremost, technology can play a significant role in transforming health preparedness. Integration of next-gen technologies can enhance surveillance capabilities, early detection, and response mechanisms.

Furthermore, a paradigm shift towards a more holistic, interdisciplinary approach is needed. Traditional health systems primarily focus on treating diseases rather than preventing them. The focus should shift toward proactive measures, such as strengthening primary healthcare, promoting health education and awareness, and investing in preventive interventions. This shift can empower individuals and communities to take charge of their health, creating a culture of prevention and resilience through global collaboration and the right investments.

Also Read: Understanding the role of private healthcare providers in India's march toward Universal Health Coverage

We must act collectively to ensure all nations' well-being and health security. By proactively investing in prevention and empowering individuals, we can build a resilient health system capable of navigating through uncertain times and safeguarding the well-being of populations worldwide.

The Joint Finance-Health Task Force established by G20 and the upcoming Brazil presidency of G20 have their agenda cut out to treat health as a productive sector, essential for economic recovery and eventually for economic growth and development—without human capital development, there is no real development.

The writer is global health leader - PHC & Health systems, ex-UNICEF.

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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