The coming year is a crucial one for global health as the nature of the health threats we face evolve. But also evolving are the tools we have to tackle them – and the EU is set to exploit new possibilities and implement solutions on a global scale
Since 2020, we have been confronted with an unprecedented global pandemic that has changed the world as we know it and set back progress towards the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. It also highlighted an undeniable truth: global pandemics do not respect borders and require global solidarity and decisive action both for preparedness and response.
In the European Union, we have used the opportunity of the pandemic to redefine the way health policy is done by putting in place the pillars of a strong European Health Union, for the benefit of our citizens.
Each of the pillars of our Health Union – the ambitious Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan, the Pharmaceutical Strategy, the world-pioneering European Health Data Space, as well as our comprehensive approach to mental health – together with a stronger EU health security framework, will make a lasting difference in rebuilding and strengthening our healthcare systems and ensure that the EU is better prepared to face health threats in the future.
Throughout the pandemic, the EU did not shy away from its responsibilities for global solidarity. Through our Vaccines Strategy, we ensured equal deliveries of lifesaving Covid-19 vaccines to all 27 member states at the same time. The EU also became the world’s pharmacy during this time, exporting billions of doses all over the world and playing a leading role in the COVAX mechanism to ensure equitable access to vaccines for citizens worldwide.
From the outset, the EU has championed a reform of the global health architecture and called for a comprehensive pandemic agreement to strengthen global preparedness.
A new strategy
We presented a new EU Global Health Strategy to work together with our international partners towards a stronger health architecture for all. This is our agenda of global action for the next 10 years, premised on the knowledge that we can only achieve global health goals by continuing the strong spirit of solidarity and cooperation built up during the pandemic. This strategy has two main goals: regain the ground we have lost on achieving our universal health targets and reinforce health systems and preparedness worldwide.
The coming year is crucial to strengthen the global health architecture with a strong, effective and accountable World Health Organization at its core. Supported by G7 and G20 discussions, this year’s UN General Assembly High Level Meetings provide the political impetus needed to achieve universal health coverage, fight tuberculosis, and advance towards an ambitious and legally binding pandemic agreement in May 2024.
We, as a global community, share the responsibility to emerge stronger and wiser from the Covid-19 pandemic and make the world safer. Our call for a comprehensive pandemic agreement has been supported by ambitious proposals at the negotiating table to achieve more equitable and effective pandemic prevention, preparedness and response, empower low- and middle-income partners, and support their health sovereignty.
A concrete proposal concerns worldwide equity in access to essential medical countermeasures. Our proposals aim to support our partners to improve their research and manufacturing capabilities through technology transfer and, in addition, measures to ensure prices better match countries’ resources. Expanded production across the world, together with greater affordability and availability for those most in need, is crucial to address the challenges partners face, genuinely promoting equity.
The EU Global Health Strategy also underlines the importance of a global mechanism that promotes equity for low- and middle-income countries regarding access to vaccines and other essential medical products – another key lesson of Covid-19. Although such a mechanism would naturally be anchored in the pandemic agreement, the next pandemic may not wait for its entry into force. This is why we support the swift establishment of an interim mechanism to ensure we have a safety net. The September meetings in New York this year were a unique opportunity to set it in motion.
Beyond the medical response to health crises, the world will simply not be safe unless we collectively strengthen prevention and preparedness as well. Here, the EU is proposing to significantly strengthen infection prevention and control across the board through a One Health approach. This includes improved capabilities to detect, survey and identify pathogens, including zoonotic ones; better access, sharing and storage of pathogen samples and of genomic sequences; and tighter biosafety and biosecurity. To achieve this, support would be provided to low- and middle-income economies, creating a powerful barrier to pandemics that would help save lives.
A shared responsibility
Prevention and preparedness, too, are a shared responsibility. There is no trade-off between equity in response on the one hand, and prevention and preparedness on the other. They are not a zero-sum game, but two sides of the same coin. The new pandemic agreement is not an EU project, but a partnership of equals. We see it as a common good for all of us. For it to succeed, we must all embrace it in equal measure and share the same sense of responsibility.
Last but not least, three important horizontal benefits underpin the EU’s approach to a new global health architecture: greater emergency workforce capabilities, better information to tackle pandemics and measures to fight misinformation and disinformation, and extended capacity-building in all areas.
The EU’s vision for a stronger global health architecture aims to deliver tangible results for all our partners. The kind of solidarity and common purpose that will promote equity must go hand in hand with an inclusive approach that considers the views of all countries and stakeholders.
The nature of the health threats we face are evolving, but so too are the tools we have to tackle them. Developments in research and digitalisation are expanding the possibilities for building stronger and more sustainable health systems.
With the new Global Health Strategy, the EU intends to exploit these new possibilities and fully embrace its duty of taking a leadership position in this process. We want to do so by building on our experience and bringing the solutions we are putting in place onto a global scale.
The health landscape has irrevocably changed over the last years. The next year will be a collective test of just how much we have truly learned. In the EU, we are determined to stay the course.