Health and Finance ministers from the G20 group of countries on Friday proposed the creation of a new international working group to coordinate action against health emergencies after a joint meeting.
The joint finance-health working group of the G20, announced in a statement, is responsible for strengthening coordination against health threats and promoting joint actions, including deciding how to invest the funds. It will be composed of officials from the ministries of health and finance of the participating countries.
It will initially be led by Italy and Indonesia, the G20 hosts for 2021 and 2022, respectively. According to the statement, it will cooperate with the World Health Organization and receive support from the World Bank.
The proposal was unanimously endorsed by ministers, who met in Rome ahead of the weekend’s G20 leaders’ summit.
The creation of a “World Health Council” was first proposed by the Pan-European Commission on Health and Sustainable Development – a commission created by the World Health Organization and chaired by the former Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti. In a report released in September, the WHO said the role of the board could be to ensure “preparedness and responsiveness to health crises, including by providing the necessary resources.” The initiative was inspired by the success of the Financial Stability Board set up after the 2008 global financial crisis.
The G20 proposal falls short of the full board envisioned by the WHO panel. But even in its less ambitious form, it has met political resistance from a number of G20 countries. In a letter obtained by POLITICO and released ahead of Friday’s meeting, current and former world leaders warned of the risks of failure and urged G20 leaders to cooperate, helping to push the initiative to the limit. finishing line.
Monti, who signed the letter with former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, US Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers and others, said he was pleased with the results. He told POLITICO that there was no guarantee the proposal would be adopted at Friday’s meeting, having encountered resistance from China and other G20 members.
“This is an important first step,” Monti said, adding that he hoped the mechanism could be strengthened in the coming months.
The common good
Martin McKee, professor of European public health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, was also satisfied with the results.
“It seems to draw heavily on the recommendations of the Pan-European Commission,” said McKee, who was on the WHO panel.
He said the SARS respiratory infection outbreak led to the creation of a mechanism to declare an international public health emergency. âBut then there was a gap as to what you did after that,â he added. “And in particular, how you mobilized resources. It’s a way to try to fill that gap.”
The pandemic has highlighted the lack of financial instruments available to countries to deal with health emergencies.
The most publicized program, US Operation Warp Speed, has spent around $ 10 billion on early vaccine development. Billions more have been spent on vaccine donations. But these amounts are eclipsed by the hundreds of billions, if not trillions of dollars, that countries have pumped into their economies in the form of fiscal and monetary stimulus.
Burned by the experience of the 2008 financial crisis, deficit spending in both Europe and the United States has helped maintain the stability of businesses and households. Meanwhile, central banks have cut interest rates and bought up national debt to help finance unprecedented public spending.
Even as the pandemic raged, the economic consequences of the intervention were remarkable, with initial job losses giving way to a rebound in employment, and with poverty rates in some cases even falling from relative to pre-pandemic levels.
But while governments have more experience in managing and working together on the consequences of financial downturns, international coordination throughout the pandemic has been uneven.
And increased health coordination would not only help poorer countries, said Paula Lorgelly, professor of health economics at University College London. In the case of COVID-19, rising immunization rates around the world also offer “returns to richer countries.”
She referred to a RAND study that showed that for every dollar spent by high-income countries on vaccines for the developing world, richer countries were around $ 4.80.
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