UN Dialogue on Pandemic Preparedness and Response — Five Principles for Financing Future Preparedness

Gabrielle Fitzgerald, Co-founder, Pandemic Action Network 

It was an honor to have the opportunity to speak today at a meeting with UN ambassadors and global health leaders convened by the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, together with UN Representatives of Norway, Argentina, and South Africa, on how to strengthen the pandemic preparedness and response architecture

In preparing for today, I went back and reviewed many of the papers and recommendations that were prepared in response to the West Africa Ebola outbreak, many of which I took part in. In looking at these papers, written just five or six years ago, two things stood out:

First, the vast majority of the financing discussions were focused on how to ensure there were adequate funding mechanisms for responding to disease outbreaks, and very little on how to prepare.

Second, I saw that one paper begot another commission which begot another paper, into a seemingly endless cycle, with minimal action. 

To be fair, there were some important changes following the West Africa outbreak: The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, or CEPI, was created — a critically important organization that helps accelerate the development of new vaccines for emerging infectious diseases with pandemic potential. The World Health Organization’s Health Emergencies Programme was strengthened, and a Contingency Fund for Emergencies was capitalized. But the more far-reaching, systemic issues were not addressed, because there was no political will at the time to carry recommendations of that nature forward — and the world once again turned its attention elsewhere.

Pandemic Action Network was founded to make sure this doesn’t happen again. Our mission is to build political support for a rapid end to the COVID-19 pandemic and to ensure long-term pandemic preparedness. We are now a network of more than 100 organizations and growing, representing a range of stakeholders from across sectors and geographies, that have come together to build and sustain that political will. To that end, our Network has set out a bold, but achievable, agenda for action by world leaders in 2021.

In today’s session, I stressed that there is a political window of opportunity that exists now that shouldn’t be missed. As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, it might be tempting to say that all our energies should be focused on responding to this disease. The urgency is great, but we must raise our level of ambition and act on both fronts. With pandemic threats now emerging on the order of at least once every decade, world leaders cannot wait until COVID-19 is behind us to take action on ensuring countries are prepared for the next pandemic. 

As global leaders consider options for how to ensure there is a sufficient, predictable, and sustainable funding model to support pandemic preparedness, I encouraged the group to take into account five principles:

Act with urgency — COVID-19 has shown us that a pandemic has massive economic, social, and security implications. The funding mechanism should be developed quickly, and governed, resourced, and structured to drive rapid investments and results.

Focus on preparedness — The funding mechanism must be focused specifically on accelerating and sustaining preparedness for the looming threat of epidemics and pandemics.

Promote head of state leadership and country ownership — COVID-19 makes clear that pandemics are not only a health threat, they are also a grave economic and security threat. We need to ensure that every head of state treats pandemic preparedness as a top priority and leads their country in developing and implementing a whole-of-government national action plan to close their preparedness gaps and maintain readiness for the next pandemic threat.

Ensure additionality — Funding for better preparedness requires substantial new and targeted investments, commensurate with the global threat and national needs, but these funds must not come at the expense of other existing global health priorities and investments.

Bolster accountability — The funding mechanism must drive accountability for progress against widely agreed health security measures, including the International Health Regulations (IHRs) and joint external evaluation (JEEs), and must have a diverse and independent global governance structure that includes civil society and the private sector.  

In the spirit of urgency, I encouraged the UN member states represented at the meeting to not let “perfect be the enemy of the good.” We cannot afford to wait to have every detail figured out before we move forward on creating and beginning to implement a new financing mechanism to support preparedness.

Pandemic Action Network Applauds Bipartisan Support for Global Health Security Legislation in U.S. House of Representatives

March 25, 2021 – Pandemic Action Network warmly welcomes the bipartisan advancement of a key global health security bill by the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee today. The Global Health Security Act of 2021 is an important step forward to accelerate and deepen U.S. global leadership in pandemic preparedness and response, and draws on lessons learned from COVID-19 to strengthen and invest in global efforts to detect, prevent, and respond to emerging pandemic threats that will keep America and the world healthier, safer, and more secure.

The Global Health Security Act of 2021 (HR 391) legislates the U.S. commitment to, and leadership in, the Global Health Security Agenda, a partnership of 70 countries working to secure global health security. In addition to elevating and improving U.S. prioritization and coordination of global health security efforts, the bill also instructs the Administration to work with other donor nations and multilateral stakeholders to establish a new Fund for Global Health Security and Pandemic Preparedness, which will leverage public and private financing to rapidly accelerate pandemic preparedness in lower-income countries. The Fund echoes calls from the Pandemic Action Network and partners as well as the language included in the recent National Security Memorandum from the White House to stand up an enduring, catalytic international financing mechanism to help countries close critical gaps in their preparedness for potential pandemics and incentivize sustainable domestic public and private sector investments in global health security. The Network calls  on the President and Congress to commit at least $2 billion to jumpstart the Fund this year.

Pandemic Action Network Co-Founder Carolyn Reynolds said, “Pandemic Action Network applauds the strong bipartisan cooperation in the House Foreign Affairs Committee to advance the Global Health Security Act, demonstrating the urgent imperative for U.S. global leadership to make the world safer from pandemic threats. Chronic underinvestment in public health systems and pandemic preparedness has been a major factor in the inadequate control of COVID-19 around the world, and that neglect must stop once and for all.  The bipartisan support for this bill underscores that health security is not a partisan issue, but it is the smart, strategic, and right thing to do—for America and the world.  

“We thank House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Meeks, Ranking Member McCaul, and Representatives Connolly and Chabot for their leadership and strong commitment to heed the lessons learned from COVID-19 and help ensure that America engages with the world in preventing another deadly, costly pandemic from happening again. We urge the entire House to approve this critical health security bill without delay.”

“The Pandemic Demands That We All Get Political.” – A Message from Incoming UNITE Executive Director Amish Laxmidas

By Amish Laxmidas

The current pandemic has shown us that we all need to be political. While we rely on our policymakers to effectively legislate on clinical and non-clinical COVID-19 response, to allocate smart budgets to stimulus packages for our much-damaged economies, and to use diplomacy to make the COVID-19 vaccine as a global public good, there is another pandemic in the making. And it will severely hit us all, if we don’t seize this moment to take action so that COVID-19 leaves a legacy to better prepare humanity to deal with outbreaks.

It has been a year since the WHO has declared SARS-CoV-2 as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. Recently, we gathered policymakers and global health experts from around the world to grapple with lessons learned and the political commitments required to take action on COVID-19 while not losing sight of the Sustainable Development Goals in the midst and aftermath of the pandemic. With an eye on the next pandemic, the following key recommendations for policymakers emerged:

  1. Lead the discussion on the creation of national and global systems of alert that put in place a strong mechanism to alert national governments and international institutions of the possibility of an imminent global health threat. Lawmakers should be the frontline of a future pandemic rather than healthcare workers.
  2. Hold national governments accountable. 2020 will always be marked by the year in which science, multilateralism, and diplomacy have prevailed after all. However, vaccine nationalism and unilateralism are on the rise. The only stakeholder that has the power to hold national governments accountable for their international commitments are members of parliament, congresses, and senates. They are the ones who truly represent the most vulnerable communities, and therefore they have a duty to fulfill.
  3. Pandemic preparedness and response demand a global response. UNITE is a platform of dialogue and action in which donor countries and policymakers are united in a shared understanding that no one is safe until everyone is safe. Unless we fully fund COVAX and the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A), policymakers from low- and-middle-income countries will continue to witness their constituencies suffering from the virus and consequently the global economy and supply chains for the high-income countries will continue to be broken.
  4. Invest now for the future. There is enough data for policymakers that shows that the cost of response exceeds the cost of preparedness. The Global Preparedness Monitoring Board is clear in saying that ‘expenditures for prevention and preparedness are measured in billions of dollars, the cost of a pandemic in trillions. It would take 500 years to spend as much on investing in preparedness as the world is losing due to COVID-19’. Further, the latest World Economic Outlook (January 2021) estimates that the global growth contraction for 2020 to be at -3.5 per cent. Countries like the United States or Germany are expected to grow slower than emerging economies in this year and the following.
  5. Democracy must be the most important determinant for health & well-being for all. The linkage between health and democracy is clear: regular, free, and fair democracies have higher legitimacy (and incentives) to provide resource allocation to their constituencies. On the other side of the spectrum, a recent piece from the British Medical Journal shows that ‘countries in which democracy is being eroded have made less progress on universal health coverage’. The economic downturn, the lack of funding for social welfare state mechanisms, and the rise of vaccine nationalism are key ingredients for the rise of misinformation, mistrust in multilateralism, and lack of confidence in policymakers. Political polarisation toward the current virus has allowed a narrative that leads to easy answers for difficult questions. Political cycles and democratic transition of power should be firm but also safe for its most important stakeholder: The People.

 

Over the last year, everyone has been impacted by COVID-19 in some way and the pandemic is everyone’s business now. But, for policymakers, in particular, it is time to turn lessons learned into actions. Policymakers who had never legislated during a pandemic had to turn to public health experts to know when to reopen schools, museums, restaurants or their borders. Global, national, and regional sovereignty is at stake because we did not act accordingly years ago. Now is the time for policymakers around the globe to prioritise long-term pandemic preparedness for the security and health of our countries. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.


About UNITE

UNITE is an independent, non-profit, global network of current and former parliamentarians. UNITE is committed to ensuring that no life is limited by infectious disease through unified political advocacy. Read the UNITE Global Summit Handbook for policymakers here.