At the recent UN Global Compact Leaders’ Summit, leading voices from business, government and the UN discussed how to “recover better, recover stronger, and recover together.”
Part of that recovery must be to invest more in pandemic preparedness and disease prevention.
With more than 400,000 deaths worldwide, in less than 6 months, COVID-19 has given a stark reappraisal of our global health resilience.
Tragically, we knew this pandemic was coming. Since 2000, we’ve had numerous ‘close calls’ – H1N1, SARS, MERS, Ebola, Zika – and repeated warnings from scientists about the high pandemic risk levels. The truth is that the world underinvested in pandemic preparedness and, in doing so, our healthcare resilience.
Ultimately, vaccines are the exit plan the world needs for COVID-19. The good news is that we are seeing an explosion in vaccine development, with new technology leaps comparative in Life Science terms to Elon Musk’s recent efforts with SpaceX. But, this is largely coming through crisis response rather than long-term planning.
Experience tells us that tackling public health challenges require scale interventions and bold investment choices, made over a sustained period of time. PEPFAR and the Global Fund for example, which mobilised billions of dollars, have been game-changers in the fight against HIV. Two weeks ago, we saw the International community pledge $8.8 billion of new funding at the GAVI replenishment to vaccinate more than 1 billion children by 2025.
We need to be similarly bold in future pandemic preparedness. The economic costs of COVID-19 far outweigh any residual concern about pre-emptive investment.
Creating a new, global “biopreparedness network” of scientific facilities – at the service of all nations – ready to protect the world, is one thing we could do. These facilities, tasked with pathogen screening for potential pandemic viruses; antigen development; and surge manufacturing capacity for pandemic vaccines, could be at the forefront of a new pandemic response.
Alongside bold investment, we need bold collaboration. Global health leaders like, WHO, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, CEPI, Wellcome Trust, NIH, BARDA, amongst others, are exemplifying meaningful joint action to help solve this pandemic.
The Life Science sector has also stepped-up in this crisis to help find solutions, using its science, resources and scale in collaborations and often in unprecedented ways. AstraZeneca is helping develop Oxford University’s candidate vaccine; GSK and Sanofi, two of the world’s largest vaccines companies, are now working together to develop an adjuvanted vaccine; Merck, Pfizer, Lilly and Johnson & Johnson are all partnering with biotechs and academia to fight COVID-19. Many companies are joining data-sharing enterprises like the new Therapeutics Accelerator and the sector is making exemplary moves and commitments to support equitable access and supply of potential vaccines and therapeutics, in partnership with others.
These moves are inspiring and I hope will translate into energy and urgency beyond the current crisis to better prepare for future pandemics, and broader public health risks such as antimicrobial resistance.
At the Summit, we saw many pioneering examples of how business is making a powerful difference to the sustainable development agenda and many new commitments to it.
Better global pandemic preparedness should be one of them.