October 26, 2022
JAKARTA – The Group of 20 Leaders Summit in Bali is drawing near. It will be the pinnacle of the G20 process and intense work carried out within the ministerial meetings, working groups and engagement groups throughout the year. Health is one of the priority issues under Indonesia’s G20 presidency.
In this regard, the second Health Ministers Meeting (HMM) of the G20 Indonesian presidency will be held on Oct. 27-28 in Bali. It is hoped the meeting will result in the G20 Health Ministers’ Action to Strengthen Global Health Architecture to perform better global health security.
Such architecture is pertinent considering that infectious disease outbreaks and other emerging global health threats are occurring with increasing frequency and severity. Factors such as globalization, urbanization, climate change and the ease of travel and trade mean that dangerous pathogens are more easily transported and spread across the world, irrespective of national boundaries.
COVID-19 and other pandemics, as well as numerous other outbreaks, have already occurred, thousands of lives have been lost and billions of dollars of national income wiped out. Large epidemics have a health, economic and social impact. The health aspect includes disease, death and long-term sequelae. The economic impact can cover loss of productivity, the cost of response and recovery and loss from travel/trade bans, etc.
In this regard, the disruption of social life can also happen, so can social stigma with its wide-ranging impacts.
We hope the world can stand safe and secure from global health threats posed by infectious diseases. This means we must prevent or mitigate the impact of natural outbreaks and accidental or intentional releases of dangerous pathogens, rapidly detect and transparently report outbreaks when they occur, employ an interconnected global network that can respond effectively to limit the spread of infectious disease outbreaks in humans and animals, mitigate human suffering and the loss of human life and reduce the economic impact.
For too long the approach to pandemics has been one of panic and neglect: throwing resources at the problem when a serious outbreak occurs, then relatively neglecting the world’s pre-organized preparedness when the news continues to make headlines. The result has been too many lives lost and too much damage to human livelihoods.
New outbreaks will occur, but by investing in prevention, detection, containment and response we can reduce their frequency and impact. Investing in global health security is imperative, otherwise we will all too often see poorer, more vulnerable countries suffering terrible losses of life and being knocked off their trajectory of social and economic development – and we put the world at risk of highly contagious deadly influenza or other viruses that could kill millions.
There is no simple definition of health security. It can mean human security, the prevention and control of infectious diseases, attention to non-communicable diseases, revitalized research and development to produce global public goods, tackling substandard and falsified drugs, addressing international migration or building stronger health systems through universal health coverage.
Global health security itself means having strong public health and emergency response systems in place around the world to stop the spread of infectious diseases across borders and to detect, prevent and respond to biological threats from emerging infectious diseases to other pandemics. In an increasingly interconnected world, where diseases know no borders, global health security efforts are vital to protecting health around the world.
The bedrock of outbreak and emergency preparedness and response is a functioning, resilient national health system – with financing, human resources, infrastructure, information and supply management systems capable of detecting and responding to public health emergencies.
Global health security starts at home – making sure it has the tools to prevent, detect and respond to infectious diseases and biological threats. However, it is critical that efforts also address building systems and capacity in countries with weak health infrastructures that prevent them from adequately responding to disease outbreaks. Strong health systems are critical to ensuring that countries have the capacity to respond to disease outbreaks and prevent them from becoming global epidemics.
In this regard, a strong comprehensive health system is essential for health security while in turn, better health security strengthens health systems. Integrated, multi-stakeholder, multi-sectorial approaches are beneficial in that they work to strengthen global health security and national capacities by involving key players.
Preparedness for pandemics refers to a range of health and non-health interventions, capabilities and capacities at community, country, regional and global levels. Preparedness is a core component of health systems strengthening, both depending on and contributing to other parts of the health system. This is why preparedness measures cannot be undertaken for a single pathogen. “Preparedness” reflects the performance of the full system. Efforts to strengthen health security and health systems need to be integrated to promote sustainability, efficiency and effectiveness of a country’s preparedness efforts.
Strong and resilient health systems are essential for a world safe from the threat of infectious disease outbreaks. There is a need for enhancing the components of the health system critical for epidemic prevention and response, including strong leadership and governance, the quality and safety of service delivery, infection prevention and control, community engagement, a skilled health workforce, robust information systems and effective management of supplies and pharmaceuticals.
Health security must be addressed with great urgency, and health-system strengthening is one of the surest routes to health security. We do hope that the G20 Indonesian presidency will be the cornerstone of global health security in the world.
The writer is professor of health at University of Indonesia, director of the Postgraduate School at YARSI University, Jakarta and former director of communicable disease, WHO Southeast Asia Regional Office.