By Cecilia Russell
Johannesburg, South Africa, Dec 1 2021 – COVID-19 highlighted significant gaps in the world’s ability to deal with pandemics, and it’s crucial these are addressed to mitigate the impacts of future global health problems, Masato Kanda, Japan’s Vice Minister of Finance for International Affairs, told a recent online meeting of parliamentarians.
The meeting with the theme ‘Nairobi Commitments Follow-up under COVID-19’ heard that the gaps were serious and significantly affected and in the future, would impact the world’s ability to respond to pandemics.
“These gaps include insufficient coordination, information sharing amongst multilateral and bilateral agencies, limited the collaboration between financial and health policymakers, inadequate finance to both effectively prevent or prepare for future pandemics,” Kanda said. He elaborated that governance, financing of the current global health system, including development, manufacturing, procurement and delivery of vaccines and medical equipment needed urgent attention.
Japan had energetically participated in recent discussions at the G20 meeting in Italy. Kanda noted that without proper and integrated governance reform, the world would again “end up with fragmented, inappropriate and uncoordinated responses.”
Professor Keizo Takemi, MP and Chair of Asian Forum of Parliamentarians on Population and Development (AFPPD), opened the session with a reminder that discussions at the forum and beyond would need to look at the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which had caused “prolonged and devastating changes to our daily lives”.
He said a face-to-face meeting in Tokyo was planned for February 2022 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the AFPPD and APDA.
Counting the cost of the pandemic, he noted it had an “unprecedented impact on many areas, such as education, global workforce, food systems, public health and individual decision making on childbearing.”
In terms of health, it has impacted the delivery of sexual and reproductive health services, and these needed to form the agenda for discussions in the future.
Yoko Kamikawa, MP and Former Minister of Justice, Chair of Japan Parliamentarians Forum for Population (JPFP), said at the 40th anniversary next year she hoped parliamentarians could look at the “steps the Asian parliamentarians had taken in the past and discuss how to build a society where all people can live their lives with dignity.”
Parliamentarians play a crucial role in the delivery of the SDGs, she said.
“To achieve sustainable development, we need to go beyond the nation-state and establish a new set of standards and rules that will allow us to live humanely on this planet and that will benefit human society as a whole. And this is precisely why it is critically important for parliamentarians who legislate on behalf of its citizens to further efforts in cooperation,” Kamikawa said.
Björn Andersson, Regional Director of UNFPA APRO stated that the ICPD25 Nairobi summit brought together 8000 delegates from 170 countries and territories. It emphasized the importance of universal access to health care. Nobody at the Nairobi summit could have anticipated the impact of COVID-19.
“Over the last 18 months, health systems have been stretched to the brink. And we have noted a decrease in investments in routine health services in favour of procurement and delivery of COVID-19 supplies,” he said.
This has had a significant impact on communities. For example, over the past 18 months, there have been changes in patterns of health-seeking behaviour of many people, including pregnant women, who were fearful of leaving their houses and coming into contact with COVID-19 in health facilities.
“This has had a negative impact on maternal mortality. It is clear that more public funding for health is needed alongside innovative strategies that leverage resources to work more effectively without further increasing out-of-pocket costs for individuals and households,” Andersson said.
Parliamentarians had a critical role in achieving universal access to Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights as part of universal health coverage (UHC).
“In light of the COVID 19 pandemic and its impacts. It is more important than ever to increase public funding for health be strategic and targeted investments to achieve and sustain the health-related Sustainable Development Goals. Well-functioning delivery of quality health care and essential services cannot be compromised even in the context of the COVID 19 pandemic.”
Dr Takeshi Kasai, WHO Regional Director for Western Pacific, agreed that a global solution was critical to counter public health emergencies.
“COVID-19 made it clear that the health, the economy, the broader social well-being are inextricably linked,” he said. “The second lesson was the global health (issues) needed a global solution, and for that, effective multilateral mechanisms and institutions are needed.”
While nobody expected effective vaccines to be developed as quickly as they were, the challenges with COVAX meeting its mandate of ensuring equitable access to vaccines was concerning.
“Unless every country is protected, no country is safe,” he said.
It was critically important for the world to prepare as it moved toward a 4th wave of the pandemic, and the key to this was effective multilateral mechanisms.
- The online meeting was organised by: Asian Forum for Parliamentarians on Population and Development (AFPPD); Japan Parliamentarians Federation for Population (JPFP) and Asian Population and Development Association (APDA). The event was supported by The Japan Trust Fund (JTF) and United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).