This year’s G7 health ministers’ meeting marked a meaningful opportunity for the G7 to show its common direction in the post-Covid era – and for Japan to commit to ensuring that universal health coverage is achieved worldwide by 2030, the target year to achieve it and the next time Japan assumes the G7 presidency
The world is moving towards a post–Covid-19 era. On 5 May 2023, the World Health Organization declared the end of the ‘public health emergency of international concern’, and Japan updated the status of Covid-19 to the same level as seasonal influenza. The lessons learned from the pandemic over the past three years remind us of the need to strengthen prevention, preparedness and response – PPR – for health emergencies, and of the importance of achieving universal health coverage, which forms the basis for public health and pandemic PPR in normal times and in emergencies.
Japan hosted the G7 health ministers under its 2023 G7 presidency in Nagasaki on 13–14 May. G7 members and outreach countries discussed global health collaboration in the post-Covid era under the theme of Working Together for a Healthier Future. The meeting focused on three agendas: strengthening the global health architecture for PPR for future emergencies; contributing to achieving more resilient, equitable and sustainable universal health coverage through strengthening health systems; and promoting health innovation.
Ministers endorsed the G7 Global Plan for UHC Action Agenda. This is a compilation of actions by G7 members to contribute to achieving universal health coverage all over the world, as well as achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. Japan, among the first to establish a universal health insurance system, has been leading the global discussion on universal health coverage. However, while we have been responding to the Covid-19 emergency over the past three years, the entire world has experienced setbacks in health efforts, such as in improving infrastructure for routine health services, developing human resources for health, and supporting the maintenance and promotion of people’s health. G7 members will work on eight action areas, including positioning universal health coverage as a national priority, developing political momentum on achieving universal health coverage, and supporting the improvement of health services in low- and middle-income countries, based on the principle of leaving no one behind. The global plan includes commitments by G7 members and related countries and international organisations to provide further support.
An end-to-end ecosystem
Second, G7 ministers recognised the need to ensure equitable access to medical countermeasures – MCMs – for all people around the world, particularly for countries and regions that have experienced inequitable access in the past. During the pandemic, vaccine research and development was facilitated more rapidly than ever before, but significant obstacles remain in delivering those vaccines equitably and rapidly all over the world, especially in low- and middle-income countries. Therefore, the G7 will contribute to strengthening an ‘end-to-end’ MCM ecosystem to facilitate sustainable, equitable, effective, efficient and timely access, in preparation for future health emergencies, focusing on enhancing the entire value chain from R&D to delivery. The G7 Hiroshima Vision for Equitable Access to Medical Countermeasures sets out guiding principles, and ministers launched the MCM Delivery Partnership for this purpose. These efforts are aligned with ongoing discussions on enhancing equitable access to MCMs. Based on these concepts, it is necessary to work in close collaboration with G7 and G20 members and other countries, as well as international organisations.
Third, G7 ministers increased measures to tackle antimicrobial resistance, a particularly important issue on the health innovation agenda. They provided support through international initiatives such as the Global Antibiotic Research and Development Partnership and Combating Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria Biopharmaceutical Accelerator (CARB-X) as ‘push incentives’ to facilitate R&D and promote antimicrobial stewardship. In addition, the ministers emphasised, for the first time, the importance of ‘pull incentives’ to reward new antimicrobials as a post-market incentive. In Japan, there is a new project of pull incentives this year, and we will further promote R&D. Because addressing AMR requires cross-sectoral efforts in the areas of human health, animal health and the environment, we are planning a high-level technical meeting later in 2023 on the theme of One Health, with the participation of G7 ministries of health, agriculture and the environment, for the first time. Through such efforts, we hope to promote responses to global issues, including AMR, that require a One Health approach.
Although the Covid-19 pandemic has brought an unprecedented level of attention to health issues, efforts to promote and protect people’s health may get pushed aside as normal economic and cultural activities resume. At Nagasaki G7 health ministers expressed their deep gratitude to the healthcare workers of the world. As the chair, I also emphasised my commitment to protecting the working environment for those involved in various services, including medical care, nursing care and welfare, who continue to respond to health emergencies, including Covid-19.
Responding to long Covid
We also discussed ways to respond to long Covid. The pathophysiology of long Covid and actual situations are still not fully understood, and many people are suffering physically, mentally, socially and economically. We thus highlighted the importance of research and management for long Covid and the provision of appropriate care, including mental health care.
Finally, G7 ministers emphasised the need to restore many international initiatives for various health challenges set back by the Covid-19 pandemic and to accelerate global efforts to achieve universal health coverage. The year 2023 is marked by several leader-level meetings, including the G20 New Delhi Summit and three high-level meetings at the United Nations General Assembly on universal health coverage, pandemic PPR and tuberculosis, which all provide excellent opportunities to maintain and increase political momentum on global health. Japan will contribute to deepening discussions and international cooperation by linking the outcomes of the G7 meeting to these important meetings.
I believe this year’s G7 health ministers’ meeting was a meaningful opportunity for the G7 to show our common direction as the first G7 meeting in the post-Covid era. The year 2030, the target year to achieve the SDGs and universal health coverage, is also the year that Japan will assume the G7 presidency again. Japan will commit to working proactively to ensure that universal health coverage is achieved worldwide and a ‘Healthier Future’ is created by then.