At the beginning of the third year of the global response to COVID-19, a pandemic that has upended lives and impacted nearly all aspects of societies around the world, there is a need to redouble efforts to mitigate the ongoing acute impacts of this disease, while also shifting the vision toward sustained disease control. Reaching these shared goals requires sustained international collaboration, and governments and stakeholders must continue to exchange information, including lessons learned during the earlier stages of the pandemic.
On Thursday, March 3, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra hosted a virtual health dialogue with ministers of health and key multilateral and regional organizations to listen, learn, and apply collective lessons in seeking a more comprehensive COVID-19 response. He was joined by Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Ms. Loyce Pace, HHS Assistant Secretary for Global Affairs. Dr. Fauci provided framing remarks on the state of vaccines, diagnostics, and therapeutics. Secretary Becerra thanked his fellow ministers of health, the European Commission, and the World Health Organization for their sustained leadership, vigilance, and innovative thinking during these past two years, and facilitated a dialogue on lessons learned, barriers and opportunities to ensuring an end to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2022.
The Secretary and other ministers discussed the challenges faced by their respective communities and countries, acknowledging the extraordinary progress to date, but also noting the significant threat that COVID-19 still poses. Ministers discussed general COVID fatigue, and health workforce challenges, while also exploring opportunities for leveraging lessons learned to promote and accelerate vaccine confidence, combat mis/disinformation, and strengthen health systems in this next phase of the pandemic response. Participants acknowledged the importance of countries fully engaging in ongoing global health architecture efforts, such as strengthening the International Health Regulations.
Meeting participants also discussed possible ways forward for all countries, especially low- and middle-income countries, including thinking more critically about how to build and sustain local and regional capacity, improving regulatory harmonization, and strengthening surveillance efforts. Participants repeatedly stressed the importance of sustained collaboration, partnership, information sharing, and equity as key elements to ending this pandemic once and for all, and for preventing and detecting future outbreaks.
As part of new U.S. efforts to contribute to the global COVID-19 response, the Secretary shared that the U.S. National Institutes of Health has offered several technologies to the COVID-19 Technology Access Pool, for potential licensing through the Medicines Patent Pool (MPP). The U.S. is concluding discussions with the World Health Organization (WHO) and MPP, and welcomes other governments and rights holders to join the United States in contributing to this important initiative. Secretary Becerra also shared that moving forward, HHS will work with manufacturers to promote global access to public health emergency products in future purchase agreements.
Meeting participants included ministerial and senior leadership from Argentina, Australia, Belize, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, the European Union, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Morocco, Oman, Rwanda, South Africa, Republic of Korea, the United Kingdom, Vietnam, and WHO.
Secretary Becerra highlighted the need to work toward collective solutions to end to the pandemic this year and ensure sustained equitable access to existing and new products that can help the world in this effort. In his closing statement, Secretary Becerra urged participants to “come with our ideas, our critiques, and our commitments, noting that countries all have a respective role to play and a valuable contribution to make in the continuing fight against COVID-19.”
The health ministerial builds on Secretary Becerra’s engagement with international counterparts to continue protecting the health of Americans at home and abroad.