The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed two important truths about global politics: the world does not take global health seriously enough, and governments are not prepared to respond to global threats collectively. To be ready for future crises, leaders must better balance domestic challenges with international matters. In today’s interconnected world, they are inseparable.
Global health threats go beyond borders; so, too, must our response. Choosing efficiency and short-term thinking, by only following a national agenda, will prevent us from investing in the necessary long-term structures to protect against future pandemics.
Leaders need to stand as part of a world alliance. We need global systems and institutions that are always functional and ready, as well as politically and financially independent. And they need sustained leadership and investment. Global health should feature regularly on political agendas – not only during crises. We need to see regular discussions on global health security at the United Nations Security Council, the G7 and G20, and across the European Union.
Pandemic preparedness is a constant, long-term investment. Rich countries, including the G7 and G20, must agree on a set of preparedness and response tools, and commit to financing and adopting them. If we fund vaccine development, we must do so with a global market in mind, for example by funding the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations. If we vaccinate people, we must cover all countries and communities to avoid dangerous virus mutations. If we create centres of pathogen surveillance, they should be part of a global surveillance network.
Much of the economic devastation brought by COVID-19 could have been averted. Pandemic preparedness is one of the most rewarding investments leaders could ever make, and should be a priority for finance ministers around the world. The cost will be billions – but still only a fraction of the trillions the COVID-19 pandemic has cost so far. This is a matter of self-interest, going beyond aid. It is an investment in national health, economic stability and innovation.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a telltale sign of how the world will address the shared challenges of this century, from climate change to drug-resistant infections and future energy needs. We must use crises like these to come out of them better. If governments, scientists and the private sector can work together, we can create a blueprint for these shared challenges and reduce inequalities for generations to come. Leaders have a choice to make. It is one that will help to define the 21st century. ▪