World leaders sign political declaration on preparing for future pandemics

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Last week world leaders adopted a landmark political declaration on pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response (PPPR) at a high-level meeting during the annual meeting of the UN General Assembly in New York.

Gavi’s Chief Executive Officer (Interim), David Marlow, said that, “Countries have taken an important step towards breaking the panic-neglect cycle and crafting a global framework to support future response. The key now is to translate this into tangible action.”

The adoption of the political declaration is a very important first step as countries continue to negotiate norms and ways to prevent, prepare for and respond to future pandemics.

The declaration is intended to galvanise action towards prevention of, better preparation for, and more rapid and equitable responses to future pandemics, as well as to mainstream pandemic preparedness. Building capacities in inter-pandemic periods is essential – another pandemic is a certainty; the only question is when it will emerge.

Pascal Barollier, Gavi’s Chief Engagement & Information Officer, said that, “The moment is imminent to shape a more responsive and resilient system.”

He added: “This will require building on immunisation investments and prioritising supply chains, data systems and community engagement that enable early detection of outbreaks (before they become pandemics) and serve as the entry point for rapidly scaled-up responses.

As one of the most effective ways of preventing disease, vaccines will be a critical tool in preventing infectious disease and boosting immune systems, said Marlow. “As one of the widest reaching and cost-effective healthcare interventions, routine immunisation and reaching missed communities is key to expanding and strengthening health systems, and improving the ability to prevent, detect and respond to health emergencies.”

The declaration acknowledges the role of vaccines – both routine and pandemic – and builds on the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic urging sustainable, affordable, fair, equitable, effective, efficient, and timely access to all medical counter-measures. The declaration also highlights the need to strengthen manufacturing capacity across regions to support equitable access to vaccines in prevention, preparedness and response efforts.

In the political declaration, Member States also expressed deep concern that the COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated the stark inequities in access to vaccines, with 27% of the population fully vaccinated in low-income economies compared to 75% in high-income economies, as of 30 April 2023. They also recognised the need to “address bottlenecks in the universal, effective, efficient, equitable and timely access, distribution and administration of vaccines within and among countries with the aim of boosting immunization through effective vaccination campaigns globally”.

While political declarations adopted by the United Nations General Assembly are important galvanising tools and serve as critical sources for national and international policy-making, their impact is only seen through sustained commitment and effective implementation. In this respect, adequate financing is going to be critical as low-income countries may not necessarily be able to rally the funds necessary in the event of a public health emergency.

As the declaration recognises, although a Pandemic Fund was set up by the World Bank in 2022 (and has already started allocating grants to help countries prepare for future pandemics), more financing will be required.

This will be key to ensure that people in low and middle-income countries do not miss out when medicines and vaccines are developed, as it happened during the COVID-19 pandemic, before the COVAX facility was set up to ensure more equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccine.

The adoption of the political declaration is a very important first step as countries continue to negotiate norms and ways to prevent, prepare for and respond to future pandemics. Ongoing discussions undertaken in the context of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Body to draft and negotiate a Pandemic Accord as well as the proposed Amendments to the World Health Organization’s International Health Regulations must be informed by the new standards set by the PPPR Political Declaration.

Pulling back or lowing the bar are not options if we are serious about equitable and timely access to pandemic-related products, such as vaccines, when the next pandemic hits us.

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