The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a huge toll on lives and livelihoods, disrupting health systems with impacts going far beyond the disease itself. It has impacted the progress with the Sustainable Development Goals, the global economy is in recession, pushing millions back into extreme poverty, and social and political fault lines have been exposed. It has worsened pre-existing inequities and has disproportionally affected the vulnerable and disadvantaged. These inequalities, poor governance, and the politicization of public health are putting people at risk. To date, the pandemic has claimed more than one million lives.
The International Health Regulations (IHR 2005) adopted by 194 countries in 2005 emphasized the need to develop core capacities for the detection, reporting, and control of health emergencies of international concern. Unfortunately, in many countries, COVID-19 unveiled a lack of capabilities to handle a health crisis of such magnitude, including in the wealthy ones, and highlighted the lack of sustained investment in the health sector and in preparedness. It provided us with a stark reminder of the importance of investing in strong public health systems, comprehensive primary health care and the role of health workers and other essential service providers. The pandemic has also brought to the fore the delicate relationship between people, animal and planetary health, a relationship that must be nurtured through a “One Health” approach.
COVID-19 will not be the last event of its kind. Epidemics in the 21st century are spreading faster and further than ever. But with the right political and financial investments, we can prevent and mitigate future pandemics and protect our future and the future of generations to come. As well, leveraging essential lessons from the other epidemics like AIDS can be applied to COVID to maximize impact.
The Global Preparedness Monitoring Board, in its 2020 report, laid out the lessons the world must learn and the concrete actions we can take to protect ourselves. In addition, several ongoing reviews of the response will shed light into the lessons we are learning; These include the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response, the IHR Review Committee and the Independent Oversight and Advisory Committee for the WHO Health Emergencies Programme.
As global health leaders, practitioners and reformers, we need to address the challenges highlighted by this pandemic. Below are a few approaches to stimulate the discussions:
This current pandemic is a crisis, but it also provides us with a window of opportunity to reflect, learn and build back better. During this conference, we invite you, as part of the global health community to join us, share lessons and provide feedback so we can lay a roadmap for a better-prepared, resilient and sustainable system for global health security. Together, we will do so through addressing three questions: (1) What has the world learned from COVID-19? (2) What does a post-COVID-19 world look like? (3) What should we do for the future?
Prince Mahidol Award Conference 2021
Due to this global crisis, the original theme of the Conference this year has been changed from a focus on what is needed to achieve the SDGs in the remaining decade, to addressing the key gaps in global health, global health security as well as the social, economic and environmental determinants of health exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a virtual six-day conference with one plenary session each day, live to all registered participants and recorded for access by global audiences. Prior to this main conference, a series of webinars took place to discuss different issues on four sub-themes. The plenary sessions planned this week are the synthesis sessions building on input from the webinar discussions. This conference will highlight approaches to advancing towards an equitable and healthy world and how the global community can prepare for future public health emergencies of international concern by learning from this pandemic and synthesizing lessons for future policies and actions on health systems, economic systems, political systems and environment and climate change.
As the Co-chairs of this crucial global Conference, we are delighted to welcome you to join more than a thousand fellow health leaders, practitioners and reformers around the world, and to take full advantage of all the opportunities that PMAC 2021 has to offer.
We would like to acknowledge the valuable contribution of the co-sponsoring organizations, whose tireless efforts helped bring the Conference to fruition. We especially thank the Prince Mahidol Award Foundation and the Royal Thai Government for their remarkable support and outstanding leadership, as well as the PMAC Secretariat for providing their overall guidance, day-to-day support and incredible team spirit. We are also grateful to the organizers and contributors to the webinar series that have provided the excellent analyses and input used in this week’s plenary sessions.
Finally, we would like to show our appreciation and solidarity to all frontline workers all over the world who have bravely put themselves in harm’s way in the service of others.