G20 panel sets out global deal for resisting pandemic era

Report calls for new global body to fight future health threats

A new report has called for billions of dollars in new investment to fight future health threats. Reuters
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A G20 panel has called for billions of dollars in new funding to plug gaps in global pandemic preparedness.

The high-level panel said on Friday the Covid-19 crisis could be a forerunner to future “catastrophic” pandemics unless world leaders make major changes to equip health systems for further outbreaks.

Panel members — including World Trade Organisation Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, former US treasury secretary Lawrence Summers and ex-Singapore deputy prime minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam — said reforms should take place alongside the continuing response to coronavirus.

Their report, A Global Deal for Our Pandemic Age, urges the governments of the world’s 20 wealthiest nations to contribute to a new $75 billion pandemic preparedness war chest over the next five years.

They proposed that about $10bn per year would be invested in a fund for new health threats, while about $5bn would be distributed to global health bodies including the World Health Organisation.

The report sets out four key areas through which new infectious threats can be quickly identified:

  • Building a new global infectious disease surveillance network with the WHO at the centre
  • Better financing of multilateral development banks to support poor countries
  • New public-private partnerships to prevent medical supply shortages
  • More support for research and breakthrough innovations that can prevent future outbreaks

They called for the creation of a new Global Health Threats Board to bring health ministers, finance ministers and international health organisations under the one roof for a timely response to new outbreaks.

At the start of the global health emergency in 2020, the WHO was criticised for being too slow to declare a pandemic, while national governments scrambled to secure personal protective equipment at the expense of other countries.

There have also been claims of “vaccine nationalism”, with wealthy countries such as the US and UK vaccinating younger people, while a shortage of vaccines in poorer countries has left many older, more vulnerable people unprotected.

Ms Okonjo-Iweala said the coronavirus pandemic showed major changes were needed.

“We must move aggressively and immediately to accelerate global access to vaccines, tests, treatments and other supplies to end this deadly crisis as soon as possible, while simultaneously scaling up efforts now to thwart the growing risk of future pandemics — which represent a clear and present danger,” she said.

Mr Summers said “the economic case for these additional investments in pandemic preparedness is overwhelming”.

“The world is paying many times more and suffering far more human and economic costs from Covid-19 because too little investment in pandemic preparedness was made,” he said.

“We must do better going forward to prepare for emerging pandemic threats and reduce the damage wrought. No less than our future global and national security is at stake.”

Mr Shanmugaratnam said the new investments were “fundamentally not about aid”.

“It is the ultimate case for both national self-interest and international solidarity at the same time,” he said.

The report was compiled before this year's G20 summit in Rome in October.

Updated: July 11, 2021, 4:53 AM