Leaders from politics, science, civil society and the private sector gathered in Berlin for the World Health Summit 2021. The lessons learnt from COVID-19 and preparing for the next pandemic were among the main topics.
The forum, which lasted from October 24-26, discussed new forms of collaboration and strengthened partnerships to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We have seen unprecedented speed to develop the tests, treatments and vaccines needed to keep the world safe, global practice leader for the Economist Impact David Humphreys said.
Part of the news site The Economist, the Economist Impact is a business that partners with leading corporations, governments and nonprofits to deliver positive societal change.
"But the question remains: from science and research to policy and implementation, has the world truly shifted in terms of our ability to react?" Humphreys asked.
Joined by a panel of experts, composed of UNITE founder and Portuguese Member of Parliament Dr. Ricardo Leite Baptista, International Pharmaceutical Federation (FIP) CEO Dr. Catherine Duggan, Professor Miguel O'Ryan from the University of Chile and Sanofi Pasteur executive vice president Thomas Triomphe, they discussed how countries dealt with the COVID pandemic and how they are ready for the next pandemic.
Collaboration and investment: the two ingredients to deal with a pandemic
"We need to be better prepared for next time," Ricardo Leite Baptista said. "And for that, there needs to be a global commitment against this. It cannot be a country alone."
One of the main lessons these experts could make from the unprecedented pandemic was that collaboration was the key to dealing with this crisis.
"Collaboration is possible and works well when it's done without any political thought, without any other goals than the actual end goal," said Sanofi Pasteur vice president Thomas Triomphe.
An idea shared by Catherine Duggan:
"You don't put the politics first, as we've heard, you put the endpoint first. And that includes public-private partnerships,” she said.
“That includes paymasters, that includes sharing the evidence base and the approach to vaccinations."
For the pharmaceutical federation leader, this collaboration can be possible only via a "multifaceted approach", meaning that data and analysis need to be under constant scrutiny, and coming from as many capable sources as possible.
"Look at the collaborations you have and look at the expertise that you have in every community, in every high street and in every point of access of care and mobilise them by freeing up regulations, ensuring safe supplies, ensuring the right personnel can help with the testing, the diagnostics and then with the vaccination solution," Duggan said.
To make sure of the availability and effectiveness of such requisites, Triomphe suggested that investing in health and vaccines should not be seen as an expense, "but really as an investment".
"I think that this COVID-19 pandemic has shown that investing early into vaccines throughout is absolutely critical to move forward and be ready for the next pandemic."
Private-public collaborations rose from the most critical moments of the pandemic, from the elaboration of the vaccine to data sharing and communication.
Trust and communication, the key elements to improve
In the absence of good communication, misinformation can spread fast, Humphreys underlined.
"People not most often are looking for trusted sources, but in the absence, they're only left with the ones that communicate through those channels," he said.
For example in Portugal, basic knowledge about vaccinations is starts from prenatal care, Leite Baptista noted. Pregnant women are already introduced to the importance of vaccination.
"There was a cultural aspect, and that's something you cannot change from one day to the next. It's 30-40 years of public health work developed by public health authorities that have invested tremendously in creating a trust mechanism between citizens and the health authorities and making sure that messaging was very clear on the importance of vaccination," he explained.
"But when it comes to public health matters, when lives are at stake, we need to cut out the political bullshit and make sure that we are focussing on what matters and making sure that the messaging is clear because we know that false messaging misinformation can have a detrimental effect on human lives.".
A country-level pandemic response toolkit
In a document named "A country-level pandemic response toolkit: enabling lessons learned", the Economist Impact came up with a raft of measures that could improve future pandemic responses, based on key international documents and experts insights.
It said if individual countries manage to identify and apply their own priorities, this toolkit can be seen as a roadmap to better preparedness.
The Economist Impact listed seven key mechanisms for effective pandemic response.
"Effective responses are based on long-term investments in public health, the overall resilience of healthcare systems, the ability to mobilise appropriate response infrastructure and political competence," the document concluded.
"No single element included in the toolkit will be sufficient to mitigate a pandemic, but each one provides a crucial building block for nations to pursue better future outcomes."