The Covid-19 pandemic has laid bare fundamental weaknesses in political leadership, coordination, and health policy integration in the Western Hemisphere. The current geopolitical divides undermined the few mechanisms that were in place for effective cooperation on health governance.
Although there is precedent for countries in the region to collaborate on health policy, responses to the Covid-19 shock have been largely unilateral. In their efforts to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, countries adopted different strategies, which led to a perverse competition to procure critical medical goods, including personal protective equipment (PPE) and ventilators. While the marketplace for most of these and other vital supplies has stabilized, there is still a risk that these patterns will prevail and adversely impact the access to and exchange of knowledge on important issues such as effective medicines, clinical trials, and equitable access to vaccines. The post-pandemic recovery in the hemisphere would greatly benefit from coordination and cooperation, both between and within countries.
To address these and other issues, the Inter-American Dialogue convened a task force of experts to analyze and identify actionable recommendations to improve cooperation and coordination in health policies and to support regional preparedness, monitoring, and response for future health emergencies in the Western Hemisphere. The Inter-American Health Task Force met on March 4, 2021 and May 2, 2021, to discuss these issues and prepare recommendations. This white paper is a result of those two meetings.
The purpose of this white paper is to understand better the lessons and challenges of the regional response to Covid-19 and appraise, in retrospect, how they were addressed and how they could have been addressed. The paper also makes specific recommendations. These recommendations are grouped into five areas geared toward improving cooperation and coordination in health policy to support regional Covid-19 response and recovery, as well as future health emergencies.
- Leadership, governance, political will, and trust among countries in the Western Hemisphere are a necessary condition for success in fighting this pandemic and preparing for the next one. This may seem to be a major challenge in today’s geopolitical environment. However, the devastating impact of Covid-19 on all communities and countries and the universal commitment to never let this happen again offer a common purpose and agenda for transformative change in global and regional collective action.
- The current Covid-19 pandemic raises important questions about the quality, transparency, sharing, and use of data, and it highlights the challenges associated with data use. High-quality data, transparency, and continued investment to ensure data protection are prerequisites for the analysis and use of big data and for the guarantee of value and exchange of open data.
- The world needs a new era of cooperation and collaboration for IHR implementation. It is imperative to enable transparent, independent, and regular assessments of the core capacities and preparedness of countries for future pandemics; understand gaps in the performance of countries’ responses to public health outbreaks; and support countries in prioritizing investments in health security and the strengthening of health systems.
- Ensuring equal access to Covid-19 health services and products – in particular, vaccines – would maximize social and economic recovery and bring the pandemic under control in the region. Therefore, all stakeholders should act to protect the populations with the greatest unmet need, provide further financial and in-kind support to COVAX, and ensure availability of Covid-19 vaccines, including by expanding production and manufacturing capacity, sharing intellectual property, and facilitating technology transfer.
- The best way to deal with the spread of misinformation is to put science at the forefront of all discussions. Misinformation, disinformation, and conspiracy theories are a growing threat that will ultimately require global and regional cooperative efforts among researchers, governments, and social media platforms.
This white paper has been made possible with the generous support of the Inter-American Development Bank, UnitedHealth Group, and the World Bank.
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