The Covid-19 pandemic has led to over 2.7 million deaths globally. The virus has highlighted and exacerbated health inequalities within and between countries.
Health systems and workers have been stretched to breaking point and beyond. Huge secondary health impacts are accumulating as a result of widespread disruptions to essential health services, and without healthy populations, prosperous economies have fallen.
On this World Health Day, there has never been a more urgent time to act to build a fairer, healthier world.
The pandemic has taught us that creating a healthier world will require global coordination and investment with countries standing shoulder to shoulder. No country can prosper until the pandemic is beaten everywhere.
The UK’s G7 presidency this year provides a critical opportunity to address Covid-19, redress health inequalities, and outline a vision to achieve universal health coverage.
But what should the UK push for in order to achieve transformational change across the G7 in achieving health for all? Here are three tangible steps:
Invest in health systems
Globally, health systems have been strained to the limit or overwhelmed by the pandemic. We have seen the devastating impact of years of chronic underfunding of health systems – with widespread shortages of health workers, PPE and essential medicines.
This has led to substantial secondary health impacts, as other health services have been shut down. Last year, almost 90% of countries experienced disruptions to other health services and all essential health services were affected, across immunisation, maternal and child health, sexual and reproductive health and mental health services.
120 countries reported disruptions to non-communicable disease services such as cancer treatment. The distribution of Covid-19 vaccines offers hope to combat the virus, but the health impacts of the disruptions to other services will be felt for many years to come.
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Countries must step up and invest in building resilient and equitable health systems around the world. The UK should use its G7 presidency to encourage G7 members to commit to spend at least 0.1% of Gross National Income on Official Development Assistance (as per the World Health Organization (WHO)-recommended target) to strengthen health systems in low and middle-income countries. The UK should also build on its experience from the NHS to support countries to mobilise domestic resources to reach at least 5% of Gross Domestic Product for health.
2021 is also the International Year of Health and Care Workers. The UK must recognise the sacrifices of health workers during this pandemic, and address the global shortfall of 18 million health workers by 2030. Currently, there are not enough health workers to distribute the Covid-19 vaccine in low- and middle-income countries.
Improve global health solidarity
Covid-19’s ability to quickly cross borders has taught us first-hand that no one is safe until we are all safe.
The UK must use its G7 presidency to increase investments in global mechanisms and approaches to combat the virus everywhere. This means strengthening the role of the WHO, and ensuring equitable access globally to Covid-19 vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics through funding the Access to Covid-19 Tools Accelerator. It also means removing intellectual property barriers and sharing the science of Covid-19 health technologies between countries.
The UK should avoid a “robbing Peter to pay Paul” approach to these investments. Funding for the Covid-19 response should be used to strengthen existing health systems, rather than repurposing health funding and infrastructure away from one health crisis to fight another.
Take a ‘One Health’ approach
The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the rise of zoonotic diseases (those which jump between animals and humans), and the need for countries to take a holistic “one health” approach, which integrates human, animal and environmental health considerations. This approach will require a significant shift in how governments operate, with health needing a multisectoral and multidisciplinary approach.
The UK should use their G7 presidency to highlight the value of this approach, and champion an increased focus on the health outcomes of broader policy decisions, including across other G7 priority areas.
The G7 Summit will also be a crucial stepping-stone in the lead-up to COP26.The UK should leverage this opportunity to connect the dual Covid-19 and climate crises, and commit to combat climate change in order to improve the health of people and planet.
The UK’s five-point plan to prevent future pandemics and the recent G7 joint leaders’ statement provides welcome steps to improving pandemic preparedness and tackling Covid-19. But it is imperative that actions do not stop here. The UK must extend these plans and increase their ambition to create a healthier, fairer world, taking action on the recommendations outlined above. The UK’s G7 presidency provides a unique opportunity to achieve transformational change and a healthier, fairer world, and we urge the G7 not to side-step this critical opportunity.
These recommendations were originally collated for the C7 briefing, “A transformative agenda for the G7”. The recommendations were created in consultation with Action for Global Health and the G7 Taskforce Global Health and Covid-19 Working Group.