Strengthening Primary Healthcare, Health Workforce, and Essential Services
The G20 New Delhi Leaders' Declaration, released on a recent Saturday, showcased India's three health priorities during its G20 presidency. These priorities revolve around addressing the economic and social disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and devising strategies to prevent such losses in the future.
The declaration underscores the need to strengthen primary healthcare, enhance the health workforce, and improve essential health services to levels surpassing those before the pandemic, ideally within the next two to three years.
Additionally, the G20 acknowledges the significance of research on long COVID and emphasises adopting a "One Health" approach to combat antimicrobial resistance.
Three Key Health Priorities
India's G20 presidency put forth three critical health priorities:
1. Building Resilient Systems for Health Emergency Preparedness and Response: In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, this priority aims to establish robust systems capable of preventing, preparing for, and responding to health emergencies effectively.
2. Strengthening Cooperation in the Pharmaceutical Sector: With a focus on ensuring equitable access to vaccines, diagnostics, and therapeutics during pandemics, this priority seeks to bolster global pharmaceutical collaboration.
3. Creating a Platform for Sharing Digital Health Innovations: India has taken the lead in developing a platform for scalable digital health solutions under the World Health Organization (WHO). The newly launched Global Initiative on Digital Health (GIDH) encompasses an investment tracker, a repository of existing digital health solutions, knowledge sharing, and an ask tracker to monitor countries' specific needs.
Digital Health Initiative for Universal Coverage
While India's proposal for a $ 200 million fund for a digital health program didn't secure consensus among countries, several non-profit organizations have committed to supporting the fund. India's commitment to sharing platforms like CoWIN, e-Sanjeevani, and Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission as digital public goods has been widely appreciated.
This initiative aims to curb the proliferation of similar initiatives in different countries, known as the "epidemic of pilots." A World Bank report commended Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission's efforts but raised concerns about data protection and privacy.
Interim Medical Countermeasure Platform
Although the G20 did not establish a permanent platform for equitable access to medical countermeasures during pandemics, it agreed to develop an interim platform. This interim platform will facilitate research and manufacturing of countermeasures until a legally binding pandemic treaty can be reached.
The platform's design includes an inclusive decision-making structure with representation from low- and middle-income countries, under the leadership of the WHO. However, the timeline for its development remains uncertain.
The push for the interim platform, primarily championed by G7 countries, has sparked controversy. Critics argue that it may replicate the shortcomings of the ACT accelerator, which favoured the G7 countries in decision-making. Concerns persist that this interim measure could be exploited by G7 countries to delay the creation of a legally binding treaty, leaving poorer countries to grapple with high vaccination costs.
Traditional Medicine Integration
India's G20 presidency also advocated for the integration of evidence-based traditional medicine practices with modern medicine. A global summit on traditional medicine was hosted alongside the health ministers' meeting. The outcome document acknowledges the potential of traditional and complementary medicine practices in public health delivery systems, provided they undergo rigorous scientific validation.
India's G20 presidency successfully highlighted three crucial health priorities, laying the groundwork for strengthening global healthcare systems, ensuring equitable access to medical countermeasures, and promoting the integration of traditional medicine. While challenges and controversies persist, these efforts mark a significant step toward a more resilient and inclusive global health landscape.