We are entering a new era of health opportunities and possibilities that requires shared thinking: that health is an investment, not an expenditure
The time to perceive health as an investment rather than an expenditure is now. The international environment offers us unprecedented tools to help us achieve this common goal as we enter a new era of big opportunities and possibilities.
The Covid-19 pandemic took the international community by surprise. We have been reminded that there is no wealth without health. The pandemic is far from over and our economies are still trying to build back better after lockdowns and shocks caused by the unexpected development of new virus variants. To avoid these surprises as much as possible in the future, we must build on multilateralism, an international rules-based order, and shared good practices and information. Keeping in mind the principles of solidarity and the Sustainable Development Goals, we must reiterate our strong commitment to achieve a higher overall quality of life.
The Czech Republic is firmly anchored in the structures of the European Union, after 18 years of membership. Thanks to ongoing respect for solidarity and multilateralism, which are the basic values of the Czech Republic, we have been able to endure the hardest times of the Covid-19 pandemic. The common values we share in the EU have allowed us not to leave anybody behind. Based on lessons learnt from the pandemic, the EU established a strong European Health Union with a clear goal – to improve EU-level protection and prevention and to tackle health hazards.
The most important factor
It is obvious that the ongoing Czech presidency of the Council of the European Union cannot sideline endeavours accomplished in this domain. Under the motto ‘Rethink, Rebuild, Repower’, our main task is to help construct resilient systems across Europe. The healthcare sector cannot be omitted because health is the most important factor in our lives.
The Czech presidency is prepared to provide further support to Ukraine. In the context of a rapidly evolving situation, it is appropriate to consider now the tools to be implemented in the short term and also in the medium and long term, to ensure the best possible coordination of solidarity actions that will be necessary to enable fast access to healthcare for all refugees and to strengthen our healthcare systems at the same time. It is our moral duty to help war refugees and to work together on a strategic plan to ensure that Ukrainians get appropriate medical treatment once they return to home. This is an opportunity to foster the Ukrainian health system so that it emerges from the crisis stronger than before.
Another lesson of the Covid-19 pandemic and a real challenge is that we must make sure that future pandemics do not paralyse the rest of healthcare services. Finding the right balance between responding efficiently to the pandemic and providing essential healthcare services is one of the most serious obstacles we have faced. The Covid-19 pandemic has caused delays and disruptions across the entire sector with a dramatic impact, especially on the availability of cancer care. Thus, the Czech presidency ranks oncology very high on its agenda: we know that high-quality cancer treatment is essential not only on an individual scale but also on the global level due to its considerable social and economic consequences.
Remarkable scientific progress
The scientific progress made during the Covid-19 pandemic is remarkable. Thanks to broad international cooperation, humankind was able to produce safe and effective Covid-19 vaccines in an unusually short time, as the roll-out started only one year after the Covid-19 disease started to spread worldwide. Unfortunately, vaccination in general – one of the greatest success stories in public health history, saving millions of lives every year – has become partially a victim of its success. According to the World Health Organization, vaccination coverage has plateaued in recent years and even dropped for the first time in a decade in 2020. The Czech presidency stands ready to focus on the fight against misinformation and vaccine hesitancy. Moreover, as the Covid-19 pandemic continues, we must supply every country in the world with adequate support, particularly with Covid-19 vaccine delivery. International organisations should serve as a platform for this kind of collaboration. Hopefully the motto ‘No one is safe until everyone is safe’ will not remain just an empty phrase.
Profound changes in the global health landscape go well beyond the concept of a global health architecture – a system of fixed international institutions with pre-established rules. Indeed, we are witnessing today the emergence of a new kind of global health cooperation, an ever-evolving, dynamic system with multiple actors and initiatives that together redefine global health relations against the backdrop of a complex geopolitical context – and the risk of waning political attention that is crucial to face global health challenges. This is another reason why the Czech presidency will pay close attention to global health. We note the negotiation of the Pandemic Convention and amendments to the International Health Regulations (2005) in the context of strengthening the EU’s role in health at the international level. We would also like to propose and discuss setting up coordination mechanisms between the groups of health diplomats working at the WHO in Geneva and at the EU in Brussels to ensure an effective real-time exchange. And, last but not least, the preparation of the revised EU Strategy for Global Health will also take place during the Czech presidency. All these initiatives clearly show that a strong political commitment at the highest possible level can bring tangible results leading to better health for all.