Combatting Pandemic Globally, Locally: “More remains to be done around the world”
COVID-19 has had a profound impact on all countries, with more than 6.5 million dead worldwide, disrupting the health and well-being of billions, ravaging the global economy and local livelihoods, and threatening peace and stability.
Since the “COVID-19 Prioritized Global Action Plan for Enhanced Engagement (GAP)” was established in early 2022, GAP participants have supported enormous progress combatting the COVID-19 pandemic, globally and locally.
Working with international partners and national governments, they have helped increase vaccination rates in less prosperous countries from low double digits to more than fifty percent, provided last mile support for over 100 countries needing assistance moving safe and effective life-saving vaccines to their most at-risk populations, established regional hubs for mRNA vaccine development and vaccine and medical supply production, and are rolling out pilot treatment programs around the world.
Recognizing that more remains to be done around the world, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken as represented by United States Representative to the United Nations Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Bangladesh Foreign Affairs Minister Dr. A.K. Abdul Momen, MP, Botswana Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr. Lemogang Kwape, and Spain Minister for Foreign Affairs José Manuel Albares Bueno, on September 23, convened a COVID-19 Global Action Plan Ministerial.
Foreign Ministers from Jamaica, Japan, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, and Thailand participated, as well as the World Health Organization Director General, the acting head of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), and policy leaders from twenty-one other countries and organizations.
Ministers and leaders of the countries and organizations involved in the GAP discussed the state of the global response to COVID-19, and the role of foreign ministries to enhance political will and coordination.
They underscored the importance of enhanced coordination among GAP partners to fill remaining gaps in the pandemic response, and build better health security to prevent, prepare for, and respond to future health threats.
Amb. Thomas-Greenfield on behalf of Secretary Blinken called on GAP partners to maintain our focus to ensure everyone, everywhere is safe, even as other global issues demand our time.
Foreign Minister Momen said that immunization against COVID-19 should be declared a “global public good” and vaccines should be distributed without discrimination, according to the text of the statement which was released by the Governments of the United States of America, Bangladesh, Botswana, and Spain on the occasion of the COVID-19 Group Action Plan (GAP) Ministerial.
Foreign Minister Kwape stated that our priority is to preserve lives by investing in effective preparedness and readiness, including access to accelerated COVID-19 vaccination programs and responsive case management to ensure economic and social resilience post pandemic.
Foreign Minister Albares noted that strengthening global health with comprehensive and connected strategies is the best vaccine we can offer as policymakers to our citizens.
Turning Vaccines into Vaccinations
GAP ministers welcomed the progress made in ensuring the global availability of vaccines, but noted the need for continued focus on translating vaccines into vaccinations.
Today, more than 60 percent of the global population on average has been fully vaccinated, saving tens of millions of lives. GAP participants have delivered nearly a billion doses of safe and effective vaccines free of charge to more than 140 countries globally.
In just the last few months, GAP participants have also provided well over US$10 billion in assistance to enhance countries’ capacities to vaccinate and treat.
Ministers expressed concern, however, that the response has not been equitable around the world, and populations in many countries still lack access to safe and effective vaccines.
They reiterated the critical importance of maintaining and increasing political will to efficiently and equitably deliver safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines including boosters where and when they are needed, and reaffirmed a special focus on reaching populations at highest risk of hospitalization and death and health workers.
They applauded the work of the GAP partners and the COVID-19 Vaccine Delivery Partnership (Co-VDP) to coordinate vaccine deployment.
Ministers affirmed the importance of supporting targeted and tailored national campaigns to increase vaccine uptake, and of re-assessing national and local targets based on country contexts, demographics, and other critical health priorities.
They supported programs which seek to accelerate the uptake of COVID-19 vaccine among youths, who constitute for example more than 60 percent of African population.
Ministers called on all countries to facilitate access to vaccinations by vulnerable and marginalized populations including those living in humanitarian contexts and hard-to-reach areas.
Efforts should include mitigating logistical barriers that may disproportionately impact these populations, and facilitating safe, rapid, and unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief for civilians in need.
Ministers noted the potential value in integrating COVID-19 vaccines into national vaccine and immunization programs, to protect high-risk populations while simultaneously promoting routine immunization coverage.
Enabling Medical Supply Chains
Ministers celebrated the success of governments and the private sector in developing and producing vaccines to vaccinate the world’s population. They noted with concern the inequities between and within countries in timely access to COVID-19 medical and other pandemic response products, notably vaccines, oxygen supplies, personal protective equipment, diagnostics and therapeutics that prevailed during the COVID-19 pandemic. This also included disruptions to global medical supply chains caused by surges in demand for medical products and related inputs needed for the COVID-19 response, despite the best efforts of international organizations, private companies, and ad hoc groupings.
The Ministers acknowledged the value of regional medical supply platforms to the COVID-19 response. Participants in this Line of Effort decided to establish an implementation group to determine an appropriate mechanism to facilitate supply chains during pandemics, including establishment of a global clearinghouse for COVID-19 medical and other pandemic response products and services and to coordinate with supply chain mechanisms.
Ministers supported the regional diversification of sustainable manufacturing capacities for vaccines and related products and improved cold chain capacity to enhance standing and surge capabilities. They discussed considerations including financial sustainability, research and development efforts, regulatory frameworks, voluntary transfer of technology on mutually agreed terms, trade policies, and other critical factors.
Addressing Information Gaps
Ministers challenged all actors to address information challenges that preclude the best health outcomes in the COVID-19 pandemic. Participants noted the critical importance of identifying common topics and sources of mis- and disinformation, coordinating to rapidly address information gaps by promoting credible information, and developing and sharing best practices to prevent the spread of mis- and disinformation, in accordance with national laws and principles. Ministers welcomed the June 2022 Global Event on Vaccine Demand, hosted by UNICEF, Canada, and Ethiopia, which exchanged best practices on increasing vaccine confidence and uptake, and called on the participants to develop strong action plans for implementation and to build trust. Participants condemned all efforts to spread disinformation about vaccines. Participants welcomed the upcoming Disinformation Roundtable, to be hosted by Canada in Fall 2022, to exchange information and ideas on the impact of and effective solutions to disinformation regarding COVID-19 vaccines.
Investing In and Protecting Health and Care Workers
Ministers applauded the actions of health and care workers throughout the pandemic, and called for more support for workers’ overall health and well-being, integrating a gender approach. All participants noted the importance of safeguarding, equipping, and building capacities health workforce, including the public health, primary care, and emergency workforce. Participants called for all health and care workers to have priority access to COVID-19 vaccines, tests, and treatments, as well as other locally needed health tools. They welcomed the WHO’s Roadmap for Public Health and Emergency Workforce, and the opportunity to align activities and investments with the Roadmap to build national capacity for essential public health functions.
Participants confirmed the need to facilitate training and technical assistance to equip health workers in communication, service delivery and surveillance. Ministers noted reports of increased stress, anxiety, and depression among health and care workers and the need for governments and employers to support health and care workers’ mental health and wellbeing.
Improving Access to Non-Vaccine Interventions
Ministers noted that the pandemic has reached an inflection point, and proper use of medical tools, expertise, and leadership can turn COVID-19 from a global emergency into a manageable illness. Ministers noted the need to promote and facilitate equitable distribution of safe and effective diagnostics and treatments, including oral antivirals, and medical oxygen, through regulatory efficiencies, market shaping, global access programs, public-private partnerships, sustainable financing, and other interventions. Participants welcomed the report of the ACT-A Facilitation Council Therapeutics and Diagnostics Working Group.
Ministers discussed the need for technological and financial support to some lower income countries. GAP Ministers will continue sharing experiences and to identifying opportunities to collaborate on effective test-to-treat strategies and its integration into primary health care and public health functions. Participants also called for continued support for other essential medical interventions, including oxygen.
Building Better Global Health Security Architecture
Ministers acknowledged the urgent need to strengthen the global health security architecture to prevent, detect, prepare for, and respond to COVID-19 and future pandemic threats, including strengthening the WHO, regional health agencies, and national public health institutes, improving finance and health coordination, as well as strengthening health systems towards achieving universal health coverage (UHC).
Leaders affirmed that improvements to strengthen the global health security architecture should be inclusive, equitable, effective, transparent, and efficient.
Participants aimed to identify concrete recommendations and next steps for COVID-19 response and for future pandemic prevention, preparedness and response (PPR). Participants affirmed that the outcome of the independent evaluation of the Access to COVID Tools Accelerator (ACT-A) should help inform the coordination of the acute phase of COVID-19, and the integration of COVID-19 response into health systems. They recognized the critical role of nonstate actors in the discussions and design of relevant platforms and approaches, including but not limited to regional institutions, academia, civil society organizations, corporations, and philanthropic foundations. As part of creating a sustainable investment plan for the future, participants reinforced the need for continuing discussions to gather additional support for the Financial Intermediary Fund (FIF) for Pandemic Prevention, Preparedness and Response as a complementary mechanism in the global health financing architecture. In order to strengthen the global health security architecture, including the role of the WHO, participants welcomed the ongoing Member State discussions on the amendments to the International Health Regulations (IHRs) and the intergovernmental negotiating body (INB) to draft and negotiate a WHO convention, agreement, or other international instrument on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response.
Participants underscored that the GAP grouping had provided a valuable forum to coordinate the pandemic response and promote solutions that require political leadership. Participants supported developing a consensus position on an approach to ensure commitment, action, and accountability at the highest political levels going forward, and identify the appropriate mechanisms to respond more effectively and efficiently to future global health security threats. Participants will reconvene to evaluate progress and determine the future of the GAP.
Participating Countries and Organizations
Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), Australia, Bangladesh, Botswana, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, European Union, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Morocco, Namibia, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Oman, Republic of Korea, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, South Africa, Spain, Thailand, United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates, United States of America, World Health Organization (WHO)