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Global Health Security and its impact on the economy: a global responsibility

    • Meeting in digital format
    • 21 January 2021

          The Covid-19 pandemic has triggered economic, political, social and cultural turmoil across the globe. A crisis unlike any that has occurred in a very long time that proving that health is an integral part of the foundation of a society and its economy. Nevertheless, the response to the pandemic as not been rapid and it is going to be necessary to adjust some previously applied mechanism.

          An important lesson can be drawn from the interdependence of health and the economy. The Covid pandemic is creating the perfect storm, with economic, health and social crises threatening to wipe out decades of progress in the fight against poverty, inequality and other fatal diseases. The global economy cannot recover unless it manages to weaken the pandemic’s grip, and that is going to take ideas, investments and cooperation.

          Unfortunately, progress is slow and random, perhaps because the seriousness of the situation has not yet entirely sunk in. The virus is not something to have to chase from behind: as much as a vaccine may already be within arm’s reach, timeliness, traceability and, most importantly, policy makers’ determination to listen to science are crucial.  

          A pandemic can happen, what needs to be considered above all is the shortage of antibodies we have to fight it. This explains the speed with which it has spread and is proof that the planet is a closed system, in that what happens in human, animal, vegetal and environmental spheres even on the opposite side of the world is highly significant.   One way to confront this problem is through the innovative and courageous use of Big Data and Artificial Intelligence, and a holistic approach to the concept of health, understood as something that concerns the entire system and not only the human domain. The pandemic is a transformative event that proves there is no economy without health – if the economy can be circular so can health. Policy must eliminate the separation and adopt an approach based on interrelations and vision, as the European Union is currently doing, and is an essential step toward making that sorely needed leap of quality, but we are also going to have to build resilient healthcare systems.

          Europe has launched a series of undertakings aimed at forming a European Health Union and at reinforcing individual national healthcare systems. The pandemic has thus taught European institutions some lessons that can be summarized as follows: if governments act rapidly, they may be able to avoid the costliest containment and mitigation measures; the ability to adapt can help treat Covid-19 patients more effectively, but countries are going to have to invest heavily in healthcare workforces; a strong basic health assistance program and mental health services are needed both for Covid patients as well as to maintain high quality assistance for non-Covid patients. The most vulnerable portion of the population needs much more support from the healthcare system, and not only that: healthcare resilience is a multi-system challenge that requires close international cooperation.

          Another and no less important aspect is the geopolitical dimension. The lockdown in the pandemic’s initial phase highlighted the fragility of the supply chain and the need for greater cooperation. It is going to be crucial in the future to bridge geopolitical divides and coordinate on confronting systemic crises.

          Industry also plays a role. The pharmaceutical sector will be strategic going forward, with some noteworthy progress having already been made, especially in the life sciences, thanks to various simultaneous innovations. An example is personalized medicine linked with the demand for prevention, treatment and assistance. Digitalization in the pharmaceutical sector is strategic and begins with “open innovation” – a synergy that can lead to rapid acceleration but must be sustained by investment and with a view to its regulatory dimension. It would be advisable to create a virtuous ecosystem that measures not only the cost but also the yield of investments in health in function of the value produced.

          Finally, with regard to recovery and resilience, it is important to invest in young people. Youth must be made participants in decision-making, starting from the early formative years, with the accent placed on research, and not only in terms of the STEM disciplines.

          Recovery from the pandemic and challenges for the G20

          Emanuela del Re
          Vice Minister, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Rome