Last week’s World health Assembly was an opportunity to set out more ambitious goals to build stronger systems to prevent future pandemics and fundamentally reshape the way drug development is financed for pandemics, neglected diseases and antibiotics that isn’t restricted by the current market-based model. Despite high-level participation by several Heads of State showing that global health is finally becoming a political top priority, the final resolution did not go far enough on these crucial points.
With the notable exception of the United States, the COVID-19 response resolution was adopted during its virtual session May 18-19 with support by all governments and highlighted the importance of solidarity and cooperation, equitable sharing of health technologies including COVID-19 vaccines, Universal Health Care and the need to build strong systems for preparedness and health. While endorsing the resolution overall, the US disassociated itself from specific paragraphs in the resolution including references to the public health flexibilities set out in the Doha Declaration to the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS), and paragraphs on the proposed voluntary IP and technology pool at the WHO proposed by Costa Rica.
Unprecedented opportunity to address health systems and global R&D systems failures
The COVID-19 pandemic provides governments and global institutions with an unprecedented opportunity to addresses the failures of both health systems and the global Research and Development (R&D) systems which has been highlighted by COVID-19 in anticipation of future pandemics, including that of antimicrobial resistance.
Need a response that stretches beyond COVID-19
The resolution could however have gone further in establishing a pandemic response that stretches beyond that of the COVID-19 response. While antimicrobial use and resistance “OP7.13 Optimize prudent use of antimicrobials in the treatment of COVID-19 and secondary infections in order to prevent the development of antimicrobial resistance” was mentioned in the final resolution, it failed to recognize the need for fundamental structural changes to improve infection prevention and control, access to water, sanitation and hygiene measure, and to secure equitable and affordable access to antibiotics beyond the context of COVID-19.
Compensation needed when implementing COVID-19 resolution
To compensate, countries should in the implementation of the COVID-19 resolution prioritize to significantly accelerate commitments already made in resolutions on Antimicrobial Resistance, Universal Health Coverage, and the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development.
Antibiotic resistance is slowly unfolding right in front of us
The unprecedented focus on global health as an imperative for wellbeing and prosperity by governments, should be used to prepare for – and prevent as much as possible – other pandemics, in particular those that are slowly unfolding right in front of us, such as antibiotic resistance.
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