Health in the spotlight
G20 Issue

Health in the spotlight

Under the Saudi G20 presidency, health is a high priority, with new and unique topics being introduced that seek to strengthen public health systems while accelerating progress in all related areas – from R&D to digital solutions

At the heart of the G20 agenda, the Saudi G20 presidency places a strong emphasis on health, creating an ambitious track for the health work stream. This includes introducing new and unique topics, without forsaking previous commitments and focus areas endorsed by G20 members.

The health agenda encompasses five areas, including one that addressed pandemic preparedness as a priority even before the COVID-19 outbreak. The pandemic has emphasised the key role of the health agenda in the G20 and was recognised in the statement by the G20 leaders following their Extraordinary Summit in March and later in the joint statement by the finance and health ministers in September 2020.

Improving value in health systems is a priority linked closely to building resilient and responsive health systems that enable universal health coverage. Many health systems have yet to benefit from the best learning experiences and practical applications in this domain. G20 health officials discussed establishing a Global Innovation Hub in Improving Value in Health. By August 2020, the Saudi presidency, together with the G20 members, commenced work on the hub’s formation and function, and have made substantial progress.

Digital health is another noteworthy priority on this year’s agenda to improve the performance and efficiency of health systems. A G20 taskforce was established to work on specific actions to enhance knowledge in specific areas of digital health. With the outbreak of the pandemic, the taskforce focused its work on digital enablers used by countries to support their COVID-19 response.

Patient safety is an important topic in national health systems globally and is another priority on the G20 health agenda. Accordingly, G20 health officials established the Global Patient Safety Leaders Group, with the purpose of bridging implementation gaps through system-level solutions and locally applicable innovative solutions.

The fifth priority, antimicrobial resistance, became more critical and urgent on the health agenda as a consequence of the pandemic highlighting the extent of this global threat.

The emergence of COVID-19

COVID-19 has amplified global health gaps that were already known. The G20 leaders confirmed their commitment to work collaboratively to identify and bridge these gaps with initiatives that ensure a better future for their people.

A key element was the financial gap of $8 billion required to address the most urgent needs of the global COVID-19 pandemic response. G20 members stood up to this challenge during the G20 leaders’ Extraordinary Summit in March and called for immediate global cooperation by all countries, international organisations, philanthropic foundations and the private sector to close the financing gap.

In response, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia pledged $500 million to relevant international organisations to support global efforts in combatting the COVID-19 pandemic and co-led, with other countries, the global pledging marathon hosted by the European Commission to finance the global emergency health and humanitarian response.

The Kingdom also supported the launch of the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator, designed to accelerate the development, production and equitable access to new COVID-19 diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines.

Combatting the global impact of COVID-19 dominated the discussion at the health ministerial meeting in April. G20 members shared best practices and innovative solutions to tackling the pandemic. The ministers also acknowledged our true heroes, working tirelessly to combat this outbreak.

In September, the finance and health ministers held a joint meeting to discuss the gaps in pandemic preparedness, as requested by the leaders in their Extraordinary Summit. Ministers agreed to build on key findings and lessons learned and propose recommendations ahead of the G20 summit in November 2020.

The way forward

The COVID-19 pandemic is first and foremost a global health emergency. The key element in minimising the economic disruption is to bring the spread of COVID-19 under control, allowing confidence to return and economic activity to resume.

The primary focus should be on strengthening public health systems while accelerating research and development in diagnostics, therapeutics, vaccines and digital health solutions to tackle future pandemics. We need to capitalise on promising global initiatives to address global health threats, such as the ACT-Accelerator. Additionally, health systems should ensure the availability of a medically trained workforce.

Building global resilience has incredible value when one considers the effects of this global pandemic. Investment now can benefit us all for generations to come, and that is our goal of protecting lives, livelihoods and shaping a better world.