Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we have all been reminded of the adage: “Health is like money, we never have a true idea of its value until we lose it.” Well, as a former banker, current Minister of Health in Indonesia, and this year’s Chair of the G20 Health Pathway, I would like to stress the importance of both health and the economy, and the interrelationship between the two.
Earlier this week, I had the honor and honor to chair the first Ministerial Health Meeting of the Group of Twenty and the Joint Ministerial Meeting on Health and Finance.
Delegates from the world’s 20 largest economies gathered in the special region of Yogyakarta to discuss how to prevent, prepare for and better respond to future epidemics. I am pleased to announce that the G20 member states have taken the first steps towards strengthening the global health system and ensuring health and prosperity for all.
Progress so far: strengthening the global health system
G-20 discussions at the first health ministerial meetings focused on five priority areas.
First, the G-20 agreed to mobilize financial resources for epidemic prevention, preparedness and response by agreeing to create a new Financial Intermediate Fund (FIF). This fund aims to fill the financial gap needed to adequately respond to global health emergencies, estimated at $10.5 billion, which has been felt most acutely in low- and middle-income countries. To date, the First International Covenant has already seen the allocation of more than $1.1 billion by many countries and organizations, with many pledging to contribute in due course.
Second, G20 member states have committed to working closely with the World Health Organization (WHO) to create a permanent coordination platform that provides emergency medical countermeasures during health crises. Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have all witnessed firsthand delays in providing personal protective equipment (PPE), testing, and vaccines. We must learn from this experience and act accordingly by having a permanent coordination mechanism in place, ready to provide an effective and timely response to future health crises, wherever they may be.
Third, the G20 countries have expressed support for the principle of global genomic data sharing, which has proven to be an essential component of our collective efforts to monitor pathogens of concern and pandemic potential. As Chair of the G20 Health Pathway, I intend to take this agreement one step further to advance the creation of a global network of genetic monitoring laboratories. This network should be facilitated by enhanced global data sharing mechanisms, standards and protocols – all of which are the focus of ongoing discussions among the G-20. This proposal will provide our global scientific community with the necessary data-sharing platforms to always be on the lookout for new viruses, thus enabling governments to respond quickly and effectively to emerging health crises.
Fourth, important progress has been made in developing globally interoperable digital vaccine certification verification mechanisms for international travelers. What this means is that international travelers may, in the near future, be able to check their vaccination status with a single QR code that can be read and processed at any destination. This is certainly a step in the right direction to boost global mobility and accelerate global economic recovery, and I am happy to announce that the G20 pilot of this new system is already underway.
Fifth, there is a growing willingness among G20 countries to establish an expanded network of research and manufacturing centers for vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics around the world. Low and middle income countries often suffer from the inability to develop and provide medical treatments to their populations in a timely and equitable manner due to the skewed geographical distribution of research and manufacturing centers in high income countries. G20 support for a more proportional geographic distribution of these hubs will go a long way to ensuring that no country is left behind in future health crises.
From earthquakes rise mountains
In the midst of every crisis lies a great opportunity. In this case, it is an opportunity for G20 member states to come together and build a stronger global health architecture for future generations. I outlined above the encouraging first steps that we, the G-20, agreed to move forward to better prevent, prepare for, and respond to global health crises. I will continue to work tirelessly with my counterparts across the G-20 to continue this momentum.
But our window for lasting changes is narrow, and so I invite all of my colleagues to seize this opportunity in preparing for the G20 Leaders Summit in November. Let us continue to make the necessary financial commitments, coordinate our collective efforts, share useful information, and be as comprehensive as possible to advance our efforts to recover together, and recover stronger.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.