Media Release

World must act now to prevent the next pandemic

September 20th, 2023

Published: September 20th, 2023

MEDIA RELEASE: World must act now to prevent the next pandemic

As new COVID variants continue to emerge, global leaders are being urged to commit to a new pandemic prevention accord and funding system when they meet in New York for three high level United Nations meetings this week.

Professor Brendan Crabb, Chair of the Australian Global Health Alliance and Pacific Friends of Global Health is attending the unprecedented trio of health-related UN High Level Meetings on pandemic prevention, universal health coverage and tuberculosis in New York.

“Our leaders must grasp this chance to do much better, more of the same will not defeat the next pandemic, nor end the ongoing effects of this one,” Professor Crabb said.

A draft declaration circulated ahead of the pandemic prevention High Level Meeting recognises COVID-19 as one of the greatest global challenges in history, noting it has slowed progress towards the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and inflamed poverty and inequities. The declaration recognises the stark inequalities in access to vaccines – only 27 per cent of people are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in low income countries, compared to 75 per cent in high income countries.

Its call to action demands:

  • A greater focus on equity and support for vulnerable groups
  • Better transfer of medical and scientific technology to developing nations
  • Greater investment in the health workforce of developing nations
  • A renewed effort to address misinformation
  • More robust investment in global health – including surge financing and research and development in developing countries.

The meetings will also consider how the pandemic has stalled progress towards ending diseases such as tuberculosis as a major public health threat by 2030. The current targets for 2030, a 90 per cent reduction in the number of TB deaths and an 80 per cent reduction in the TB incidence rate compared with 2015, will not be met without renewed investment and commitment.

“These meetings must show steely resolve and agree to an ambitious strategy which addresses what’s necessary to defeat the next pandemic as well as the current ones,” Professor Crabb said. “Effective health responses must be rapid, equitable, well-resourced and coordinated. These UN meetings need to bind leaders to these principles, and insist on accountability.

“The stakes are high. We are rapidly forgetting that COVID cost us more than 24 million lives, trillions of dollars in economic costs, and massive disruption to our health systems. After decades of strong progress against diseases such as AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria COVID-19 blew us well off course. Business as usual simply will not suffice.

“We go into these meetings in New York fully aware of what’s required to prevent the next pandemic being a catastrophe. Coordinated global action, and greater investment in disease surveillance, health systems, health workers, combating misinformation and spreading the latest medical science to all who need it, regardless of wealth. If we commit to making this happen we are well placed to confront difficult challenges.”

The Global Fund’s 2023 Results Report released on Monday demonstrates progress is returning to the fight against HIV, TB, and malaria, recovering some losses from the COVID-19 pandemic. Key achievements in 2022 include 24.5 million people on antiretroviral therapy for HIV, 6.7 million treated for TB, and 220 million mosquito nets distributed against malaria. However, external challenges such as climate change, conflicts, eroding human rights, and increasing inequalities are putting the 2030 targets in jeopardy. Climate change means malaria is reaching previously unaffected regions, while violent conflict is compromising health systems, making treatments inaccessible.

Nossal Institute for Global Health Professor, and board member of the Alliance and Pacific Friends, Helen Evans, said enduring commitment was essential.

“We must recommit to fighting diseases such as AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. The pandemic disrupted decades of progress as health systems and resources were redirected to deal with COVID-19. There are promising early signs that momentum is returning, but in the face of colliding humanitarian, human rights and climate-change related crises, we will need additional investment and commitment to meet the UN goal of ending these diseases as major public health threats by 2030.

“A key lesson from Covid is that sustained high level political commitment is essential . This is not just a health issue, it’s an economic and social issue and should not be left to health alone to manage.”

The UN High Level Meeting on Pandemic Prevention, Preparedness and Response takes place on September 20, Universal Health Coverage on September 21 and Tuberculosis on September 22.

Nick Lucchinelli
0422 229 032