G-20 health ministers seek fairer access to jabs, closer cooperation

The G-20 Health Ministers Meeting sought to take stock of the pandemic's impact on the effort to combat poverty and disease. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

ROME - Health ministers from the world's largest economies on Sunday (Sept 5) underlined the need to ensure equitable access to vaccines for countries rich and poor, and to step up global cooperation to control the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Group of 20 (G-20) Health Ministers Meeting in Rome sought to take stock of the pandemic's impact on the global effort to combat poverty and disease, as well as to find ways to counter the current health crisis and prevent future pandemics.

Italy holds this year's presidency of the G-20, which brings together 19 of the largest advanced and developing economies and the European Union, plus international organisations and invited guests.

Singapore's Health Minister Ong Ye Kung was also at the meeting. The Republic is attending this year's G-20 meetings as a guest country at the invitation of Italy.

Addressing his counterparts, Italy's Health Minister Roberto Speranza said the meeting was an occasion to strengthen international relations and work for fairer Covid-19 vaccine distribution.

World Health Organisation (WHO) secretary-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who was also present and had last week called on advanced countries to delay plans for booster shots so that poorer ones could catch up, said on Twitter: "If anyone is left behind, all are held back."

He added: "To achieve vaccine equity, affluent countries must ensure that surplus Covid-19 vaccines in storage and on order are provided ASAP to health workers and other people in dire need around the world."

Food and Agriculture Organisation director-general Qu Dongyu said that a viable coordinated response to Covid-19 involves intensified collaboration across borders, sectors and disciplines.

"We are at a historic turning point to set into motion the steps needed to prevent future pandemics," he said, noting that the pandemic has disrupted agri-food systems in ways that will have long-term impacts.

The G-20 ministers were also set to pledge more action to tackle the fallout of the pandemic on mental health, according to a draft statement seen by Bloomberg.

The ministers acknowledged the consequences of the health crisis - from isolation to unemployment to food insecurity, and noted that the pandemic has exposed gaps in mental health systems.

It has also had a disproportionate impact on some groups, including women, older people, people with disabilities, as well as the poorest and most vulnerable, the draft showed. Ministers also pledged to increase access to services and to better integrate mental health into their countries' broader healthcare systems.

The summit had "build back better", as well as the achievement of greater resilience in facing health crises, as a key theme.

In a statement ahead of the meeting, Italy noted that the crisis has brought to light the importance of having solid and efficient health systems, and overcoming decades of inadequate investments.

"Covid-19 has taught us how scientific research, international cooperation and public-private partnership manage to produce extraordinary results, including safe and effective vaccines in a matter of months," it said. "The G-20 Ministers will discuss how to ensure the widest possible access to vaccines worldwide, starting from existing collaboration mechanisms, including donation of doses to face the most immediate needs."

The health ministers are expected to meet again with G-20 finance ministers at the end of next month to discuss how to reinforce the global health architecture, while maintaining the central role of the WHO.

The Italian G-20 presidency said that ensuring a more solid and stable financing system is essential "to overcome the current pandemic once and for all, and to be better equipped for future events".

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