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GHTC identifies three key opportunities for ensuring an equitable and R&D-friendly global health agenda ahead of the G20 Leaders' Summit.

November 11, 2022 by Philip Kenol

How highly will global health be prioritized on the G20 agenda? That is the question leaders must grapple with as the final G20 summit of the Indonesian presidency commences next week. Amid a smorgasbord of geopolitical crises, and as COVID-19 fatigue spreads globally, there is a danger that countries will take their eye off the global health ball at the exact moment we need them to be most dialed in. With live negotiations over new funding mechanisms for pandemic preparedness and the future of existing frameworks, the next few months will decide the future of the global health architecture, meaning that there is now a tremendous opportunity to develop new systems that will support and catalyze product development. Here are three key opportunities for G20 leaders to help significantly advance global health, enhance health equity, and support research and development (R&D):

1. Act to ensure equity in the administration of The Pandemic Fund.

In June, the World Bank board approved the creation of a financial intermediary response for pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response. The Pandemic Fund has been a centerpiece of the Biden administration's health security agenda, and its core focus is to ensure all countries, particularly low-income countries, have the health systems, resources, and infrastructure required to prevent, detect, and respond to future pandemics. Key investment priorities will be strengthening the health workforce, expanding manufacturing capacity for medical countermeasures, and reinforcing health surveillance systems.

While this is a very promising initiative, the fund and its underlying structures have been developed at a blistering pace, creating mistrust and confusion regarding its eventual operations and decision-making processes for countries and civil society alike. This is, therefore, a golden opportunity to channel the lessons we have learned from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic by committing to equity and collaboration now to bolster confidence in the fund and its future administration.

Civil society must be included at all levels of priority setting for investment. While there are two civil society seats with voting rights on the board of The Pandemic Fund, it remains unclear what additional mechanisms will be available for outside organizations to provide their expertise and input on where the investments are made. G20 leaders should ensure that The Pandemic Fund’s technical advisory panel has strong civil society representation, including from low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) and affected communities.

To further include equity provisions, G20 leaders should also consider creating greater linkages between other elements of the global health security architecture. This includes ensuring that the Global Health Security Agenda has a seat at the table, as the ongoing Global Health Security Agenda framework is an invaluable platform to advance informal, technical discussions and collaborations between an inclusive and important set of stakeholders. 

Lastly, G20 leaders should support prioritizing interventions that expand country-level capacity, especially investments that strengthen the R&D capacity of LMICs. The fund is set to issue a call for proposals to countries for the first tranche of funds in December. Responses will likely set precedent for the scope of the fund’s activities. Therefore, it is imperative that development and access to medical countermeasures remain key pillars in the gap the fund is looking to address.

2. Further establish an equitable, R&D-focused agenda in the next phase of the Access to COVID-19 Tools – Accelerator (ACT-A).

There has been much recent speculation on what will become of ACT-A, as the framework’s mandate was set to expire this September. Talks of sunsetting the platform have proved premature, as it recently unveiled a transitionary plan, which kicked off in October and will continue through March of 2023.

As ACT-A prepares to enter a new phase, it is vital to address the ongoing concerns and shortcomings of the platform. A recent evaluation of ACT-A’s performance highlighted that LMICs were insufficiently represented and consulted in ACT-A’s model, resulting in a lack of ownership affecting the delivery of COVID-19 tools in LMICs. The evaluation also found that the agencies working on R&D did not sufficiently coordinate their R&D efforts across the vaccine, therapeutics, and diagnostic workstreams.

G20 leaders must push ACT-A stakeholders to build on the progress made since the early days of the initiative and enshrine even greater equity and inclusivity structures in their framework. Increased R&D coordination and leadership are also essential to developing medical countermeasures for future pandemics. The G20 Leaders’ Summit is a great opportunity to outline a roadmap for enhanced R&D coordination between the various ACT-A pillars and highlight what additional structures could be developed to ensure progress across the pipelines for the delivery and uptake of new tools for all product types.

3. Reestablish commitment to addressing enduring health threats through R&D.

While COVID-19 has dominated global health programming, dialogues, and investment for nearly three years, global leaders must take advantage of next week to recalibrate their efforts and underscore their commitment to advancing other health priorities as well. That means recommitting to the fights against malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS, which have suffered losses of progress amid the COVID-19 pandemic and addressing the rising threat of antimicrobial resistance. We expect that many countries will use the summit to underscore their pledges to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, with a few stragglers announcing their contributions for this year’s replenishment. While those commitments are vital, funding institutions will not be enough, and additional investment in R&D is needed, particularly in the local production of medicines, vaccines, and diagnostics. 

G20 countries should also invest in essential public health function gaps; support the capacities of national and regional public health institutes in sub-Saharan Africa (including in field epidemiology, disease detection, laboratory diagnosis, and optimization of the health workforce skill mix); and convene all stakeholders to jointly define targets to accelerate the regional production of vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics. 

These steps will be part of a difficult but long overdue pivot back to health areas that have begun to backslide due to the pandemic. For the last couple of years, leaders have focused disproportionately on COVID-19 to the detriment of several key health areas. We cannot afford to ignore these persistent and reinvigorated crises any longer. Next week will be a chance to recommit to a comprehensive approach to global health that centers both R&D and equity, but G20 leaders need to step up to the plate to advance that vision.

About the author

Philip KenolGHTC

Philip manages the coalition’s multilateral policy analysis and advocacy work. He develops and implements outreach strategies to the various United Nations agencies and other multilateral organizations to ensure that the coalition is advocating a more about this author