28 MAY 2021: The Global Health Summit, chaired by Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Draghi and the President of the EU Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, was conceived as an opportunity for the G20 and all invited leaders (virtually) to share the “lessons” learned in the current pandemic to improve responses to future health crises.
Said Draghi: “We must vaccinate the world and do it quickly. The pandemic has underlined the extraordinary importance of international cooperation. With the participants from scientists, doctors, philanthropists, and economists, we will understand what went wrong.”
The Italian PM went on to say: “I would like to thank the group of scientific experts, and in particular the organising co-chairs, Professor Silvio Brusaferro and Professor Peter Piot. Your report has provided essential guidance for our deliberations and, in particular, for the Rome Declaration that we will present today. I would also like to thank the over 100 non-governmental and civil society organisations that took part in the consultation held in April in collaboration with Civil 20. It is essential to allow the free flow of vaccine raw materials across borders.
“The EU has exported about 200 million doses; all states must do the same. There must be a balance in exports to those poorer countries. We must lift the generalised export bans, especially in the poorest countries.
“Unfortunately, many countries cannot afford to pay for these vaccines. We also need to help low-income countries, including Africa, to produce their own vaccines.
“We will probably need more vaccination courses in the future, and increasing production is essential. One proposal is to introduce a patent suspension on COVID-19 vaccines. Italy is open to this idea in a targeted way, limited in time, and which does not jeopardise the incentive to innovate for pharmaceutical companies.
“But this proposal does not guarantee that low-income countries will actually be able to produce their own vaccines. We have to support them financially and with specialised skills.”
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said: “The aim of the summit is to ensure vaccines for all, to bring the pandemic under control everywhere, to ensure that vaccines are given to everyone, everywhere” through exports but also by sharing production capacity. She announced 100 million doses to low-middle-income countries by 2021.
According to the European Commission President, “The logic behind this Summit is to transform this years’ experience into a sustainable solution for the future,” saying it should become a new annual forum for health policies that bring global players together.
In the Rome Declaration that concluded at the Gloabal Health Summit “we will all commit ourselves to investing in health and health professionals,” explained Ursula Von der Leyen, recalling “the health workers who have worked tirelessly, saved lives” and who have committed “even when there was nothing more to do.”
“The first lesson I learned from the pandemic,” underlined President Von der Leyen, “is how much we need each other and how much the rulers have to work with scientists, experts, health workers, pharmaceutical companies, and certainly with civil society. We must never forget the scientific community. If we have reached satisfactory results today, we owe a hope to men and women who have dedicated their lives to science.”
France’s President Emmanuel Macron said in a video speech, “We will give at least 30 million doses of vaccines to the Covax program, the global mechanism for providing vaccines to poor countries, by the end of 2021.”
Chinese President Xi Jinping announced that “China will provide an additional $3 billion in aid over the next 3 years to support the COVID response and economic recovery in developing countries. We have already supplied 300 million doses of the vaccine to the world, and China will continue to do so to the best of its ability.”
The Director General of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Kristalina Georgieva, proposed a $50 billion plan to end the pandemic stating: “There can be an end to the economic crisis without an end to the health crisis. Ending the pandemic is a solvable problem but requires further coordinated global action. The world doesn’t have to experience the pain of another COVID case jump. With strong global action hours and little funding versus benefits, we can get out of this financial crisis.”
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus of the World Health Organisation (WHO) has made clear, “no one is safe until everyone is safe”. We should all have learnt by now that the virus knows no borders. A new variant from anywhere could unravel progress everywhere – even in a country that has achieved 100% vaccination.
Only a reinforced global effort can turn it around within the timeframe we all wish. With the G7 Summit taking place in June 2021, world leaders face a choice. Invest in saving lives by dealing with the cause of the pandemic everywhere, now, or continue to spend trillions on the consequences with no end in sight. The time to ACT is now.”
The COVAX Facility, championed by the UAE, has already distributed vaccines to more than a hundred countries around the world; however supply constraints and political choices continue to create difficulties, giving rise to the dangerous fact that so far only 0.3% of the total vaccines administrated globally have gone to low-income countries. Vaccine inequity risks not only endangering the global recovery, and giving an easier path to new variants, it also breeds global resentment that might be difficult to overcome.