s coronavirus spreads rapidly round the world, as sanitary measures multiply, as economic packages emerge, as shared declarations are attempted, the absence of real coordination is blatant. After years of serious warnings about pandemics that were met with shrugged shoulders, but nonetheless gathered accumulated experience, we believe no economic measure is enough to restore trust and order without a coordinated medical answer. A real solution: the immediate application of global governance principles to health security is now quite clearly right before us.
We had SARS in 2003. The Swine Flu in 2009. Ebola in 2015. In 2017, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation predicted a global pandemic “within 15 years,” and the World Health Organization echoed that prediction in their 2019 “preparedness” report. Just a few months on, and here we are already.
Epidemics are not new, but demographic movements driven by globalization intensity and climate change increase the initial risk of them occurring, and then the speed and depth of subsequent spread.
Humankind is not helpless here. We firmly believe it is time to re-consider every country’s health security, using global governance tools that already exist. If we have the will and resources to invest into financial stability or limit global heating, why is health security not on the table too?
Since the 2008 financial crash, for example, we have seen innovative quantitative easing policies, a welcome debate on tightening banking regulation. A consulting body was set up to bring together heads of state and financiers within the G20 framework, and the IMF’s intervention capacity was also greatly increased. Central banks now coordinate like never before.
Meanwhile, the climate crisis has its own panel of experts (the IPCC), its dedicated Green Climate Fund, and country plans to keep global heating below 2 degrees. While these tools offer large room for improvement, health security deserves the same consideration. Put simply: ambitious, permanent, and collective action.
Getting specific: we note that it has taken until mid-February to get leading Western research centers to work on the coronavirus. In the case of Ebola, shamefully, most centers never even responded. Today we call for an immediate global, and thereafter permanent, network of research centers to coordinate in immediately reacting together to this crisis and similar crises to come, irrespective of their geographies of origin.
We call for political mobilization: we need to join up these research centers in dedicated alliances with the private vaccine industry, enforcing measures if need be for a pandemic. We need drug and equipment pools, which can be rapidly deployed in response to WHO priority requests, quick industrial re-deployment is feasible.
We also propose that the new “WHO Academy,” already under consideration, gets immediately implemented and must additionally encompass experts beyond the medical profession. This would include a permanent panel of pandemic crisis experts, crisis management at large, bid data specialists, socio-economic experts, and philanthropic and emergency organizations.
We call for a permanent ring-fenced emergency fund able to deal with crises that develop fast and with little warning, as national economic emergency funds appear, one should go to global health and managed by scientists.
We call for an immediate global information sharing platform, that will immediately help all these countries with still a low Covid-19 prevalence not to lose time. This platform can then become an annual reporting structure, covering risks, but also good practices.
Local containment is illusory; for every country that enforces good practices, others may not. Just as illusory is the idea that without enforcement, new vaccines will be spread equitably.
These actions must be global in scope. Local containment is illusory; for every country that enforces good practices, others may not. Just as illusory is the idea that without enforcement, new vaccines will be spread equitably. Let us, right away, commit to a future global stock of vaccines, earmarked for the most vulnerable in both the global South and North. Finally, the debate on biodiversity must be linked to the discussion and action around pandemics.
These tools are within reach, because they come from proven tools of global governance. Given its characteristics, given people’s concerns around the world, global health security is a global good and as such rightly deserves its own toolset.
There is no doubt, asking so many countries to agree on such fundamental issues will be a challenge. We can accommodate each of them by fusing concrete measures with their political and social realities at home. It is essential, we believe, to coordinate and exchange information and processes at an international level with the advanced governance tools we routinely use for other issues. Multilateralism has become a necessity, not a nice-to-have. There will always be commonly accepted and jointly implemented responses that can quicken our responses at intra-country level.
Response time, for all of these tools, will always be of the essence. Therefore, we call for a new intermediate alert level, before the WHO declares a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern,” as the system works today.
Ultimately, let all leaders resist the temptation of playing politics with pandemics. This is a boomerang that will come back to bite. Healthcare is no place for nationalistic tendencies or policy cynicism. Solidarity beyond geographies, between sufferers, practitioners, and those who lead us is key. At the national level, the scope of the epidemic involves timely measures of confinement based on a democratic consensus.
Governments should remain committed to take the necessary restrictive measures that can have an impact on the spread of the virus scientifically, with the obligation to revert them as soon as possible. With all this in mind, the fight against this year’s pandemic will be tough, but the way we are tackling it is already the root of preparing for so many more such viruses to come.