Fri. Jul 12th, 2024
Launch of Foreign Ministry Channel for Global Health Security

The launch of the Foreign Ministry Channel for Health Security on March 14 comes in the wake of the devastating COVID-19 pandemic – the most disruptive pandemic in the last century.  Globally, more than seven million people lost their lives, with some estimates as high as 30 million.

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted health systems worldwide, contributing to the largest sustained backslide in routine childhood immunization coverage in nearly 30 years. The pandemic impacted all essential health services, from prenatal care visits to cancer screenings.  A recent study in the Lancet found a 1.3-year decline in life expectancy worldwide between 2019 and 2021 – the first the world has experienced since tracking of this measure began in the 1990s.

This disruption reached far beyond health:  the U.S. and global economy lost trillions of dollars in GDP, and many countries faced rampant inflation, ballooning debt levels, or both.  All of our nations will be feeling the aftershocks of COVID-19 for years to come.

The COVID-19 pandemic underscored three lessons:

  • A disease threat anywhere is a threat everywhere.
  • Pandemics threaten not only health, but our national and economic security.
  • We must do far more to prepare for the next pandemic, and we can and must improve preparedness and response through the four Cs: collaboration, coordination, cooperation, and communication.

Health issues transcend the health sector, and foreign ministries have an important role in preparing for and responding to health security threats.  The Foreign Ministry Channel (FMC) for Global Health Security will serve as a platform for foreign ministries to focus diplomatic attention and action on critical global health security.

The establishment of the FMC comes with recognition that the risk of a future global pandemic is high.  A changing climate, growing regional instability resulting in mass movements of people, and the rise of misinformation and disinformation – which can be exacerbated by emerging technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) – further increase the complexity of preventing and responding to the next pandemic.  Addressing these threats requires broad international cooperation, which foreign ministries can uniquely advance to strengthen our collective health security.

Global health institutions like the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria (the Global Fund), the Pandemic Fund, World Health Organization (WHO), and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, are also critical to advance global health security outcomes at scale.  Coordinated action from foreign ministries has been central to their establishment and continuous funding over the years.  The U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), working closely with the Global Fund, has engaged in transformative work to help end HIV/AIDS as a public health threat by 2030.

Collective engagement in multilateral dialogues also helps advance global health security.  We see this in the negotiations regarding a WHO convention, agreement or other international instrument on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response, as well as amendments to the International Health Regulations (IHRs).  The complex, multisectoral nature of those negotiations requires diplomacy across sectors, including foreign ministries, health ministries, finance ministries, and with other stakeholders – including civil society and the private sector – to reach impactful agreements.

The establishment of the FMC builds upon the success of the 2022-2023 COVID-19 Pandemic Prioritized Global Action Plan for Enhanced Engagement (GAP).  The objective of the GAP was   to focus political will and enhance coordination across 35 countries and organizations to end the acute phase of the COVID-19 pandemic and strengthen readiness for future pandemic threats.  The GAP focused on concrete goals, such as increasing COVID-19 vaccinations – including for vulnerable and hardest-to-reach communities in almost 80 countries; supporting regional diversification of COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing, including mRNA vaccines; sharing information and best practices on harmful misinformation and disinformation; and ensuring acute non-vaccine interventions, including GAP partner support of implementing test-to-treat strategies.

While the GAP was established to address the COVID-19 pandemic, the FMC is intended to be an enduring structure to elevate global health security as a national security and foreign policy priority before a crisis occurs.  Working together through this forum will help us collectively prevent the cycle of panic and neglect related to health threats.  The FMC will support and enhance, rather than duplicate, existing response structures.

Recognizing that no nation can act alone to protect its people from the impacts of health security threats, the FMC structure will be practical, inclusive, and flexible to address current and future health threats.  Participants will build the communication channels to mobilize rapidly when health threats emerge.

Health Security is a Foreign Policy Priority

FMC partners affirmed the importance of elevating health security as a foreign policy priority requiring coordinated action among foreign ministries.  Recognizing interconnected and exacerbating drivers of health security like climate change, regional instability, and mass migration, partners also expressed that an integrated, multisectoral approach is needed to address core gaps and priorities in global health security.

Strengthening Early Warning Capacities

FMC partners reiterated the importance of enabling and improving capacity building and early warning capabilities across sectors, as well as between countries, to prevent, rapidly detect, and effectively respond to health threats.  Partners underscored that foreign ministries have a critical role to play in supporting public health interventions to combat infectious disease threats and addressing the economic, social, political, environmental, and security factors that intersect with global health security — including in the context of humanitarian responses or large-scale population displacements.  Foreign ministries noted their ability to promote transparency concerning infectious disease threats, international data sharing, and progress toward implementation of the International Health Regulations (IHRs).

FMC partners highlighted the need for timely communication, coordination, collaboration, and cooperation to address new and emerging health security threats.  Partners proposed processes for enhanced foreign affairs ministry collaboration to detect health threats early, particularly in the context of areas experiencing governance challenges or mass population movements.

Partners also shared best practices in foreign ministry efforts to improve transparency to detect health security threats, in line with IHR obligations, including to promote biosafety and biosecurity and timely international data sharing.  Partners provided feedback to better identify specific high-risk locations for future health emergencies and considered health-related aspects of fragile states, crisis regions, and mass movements of people for future FMC meetings.

Addressing Misinformation and Disinformation

Partners affirmed the importance of combatting misinformation and disinformation and the critical role that foreign ministries can play in this space, including to address the impact of technological advances and artificial intelligence (AI).  Country delegations shared existing and planned efforts to combat misinformation and disinformation related to health and highlighted efforts to increase evidence-based messaging, including:  promoting accurate risk communication and sharing of outbreak and public health information, improving transparency around health security capacities (such as creating National Action Plans for Health Security), and integrating communication and information resilience strategies into global health security activities.

Partners shared lessons learned, especially regarding the recent experience of combatting mis- and disinformation around COVID-19.  Partners also discussed the global impacts and trends around AI and how it relates to mis- and disinformation, highlighting both where AI can be beneficial and detrimental in promoting public health best practices.  Lastly, participants discussed coordinating public outreach when cases of global health mis- and disinformation arise.

Continued Engagement

FMC participants identified specific topics of interest by country and potential deliverables of future FMC meetings.  Participants agreed to remain engaged on the critical and timely work ahead and reconvene as needed to enhance action and coordination.  FMC partners will reconvene in future sessions in the coming months to advance and outline the FMC program of work.

The United States welcomes FMC partners’ commitment to collaborate to strengthen global health security as a priority.  The United States, as Chair of the meeting, offers its appreciation to launch event participants, including: Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, Morocco, Norway, Republic of Korea, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Thailand, the United Kingdom, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and the European Union.

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originally published at Politics - JISIP NEWS