Blinken: Global health emergencies cannot be the responsibility only of health experts

Blinken: Global health emergencies cannot be the responsibility only of health experts

F.P. Report

Washington, D.C: Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken has said that many of our countries participated in President Biden’s Global COVID-19 Summit back in September where we set the ambitious goal of ending the pandemic by the UN General Assembly next fall.  I’m hoping the work that we do today, and in the days to follow, will help us stay on track toward that goal.  This is the first time that we foreign ministers have gathered for the sole purpose of discussing how to end the COVID-19 pandemic since this began nearly two years ago.

This pandemic has taught us that preventing and responding to global health emergencies cannot be the responsibility only of health ministers or global health experts, because a pandemic isn’t just a health crisis.  It’s also a security crisis, an economic crisis, a humanitarian crisis.  That’s why we need foreign ministers to step up and lead as well, and I hope this is the first of many regular discussions among us about global health security.  We also need development ministers to lead, and USAID Administrator Power will convene her counterparts later this year to discuss how they can work together to help bring the pandemic to an end.

Today what I hope to focus on is, of course, the current emergency, particularly the need to accelerate the equitable distribution of vaccines worldwide.  To put this in context, in North America, in Europe, more than half the population is fully vaccinated.  In Africa, less than 10 percent of the population is.  We’ve got to close that gap.  We support the WHO’s goal to vaccinate at least 70 percent of the world by next September, in every country and every income category with quality, safe, and effective vaccines.

To do this, we all need to step up our efforts to boost production, to increase vaccine donations, to fulfill the pledges we’ve made to COVAX and help solve the last-mile challenges – for example, figuring out the logistics of storing and delivering millions of vaccine doses safely and supporting health care workers at a time when they’re badly overstretched.  And we have to fully commit to transparency and accountability, which are essential for measuring our progress and meeting our goals.

We’ll also talk today about the future because we foreign ministers have a critical role to play in laying the foundation for stronger health security beyond this pandemic.  We’re uniquely positioned to address gaps in global governance so our countries can respond to health crises with the same urgency and immediacy that we bring to national security crises, sharpen regional coordination to improve preparedness and response, and strengthen key institutions like the WHO to modernize it and make sure it has the resources it needs to take on future pandemics more effectively.

We also need to figure out how to sustainably finance public health systems around the world so countries and regions can be better prepared to prevent, detect, and respond to future emergencies.  We’re stuck in a cycle of spending lots of money when a crisis hits, and then letting that funding dry up after the crisis is over, which means we fail to stop the next one from happening or have to play catch up.

As diplomatic leaders, we have to help build and sustain the political will to break that cycle.  I’m pleased to announce a few recent steps that will help us reach our goals.  First, the IMF, the WHO, the WTO, the World Bank, the ACT Accelerator have created a comprehensive COVID data tracker.  For the first time, the latest information on COVID worldwide will be gathered in one place, from vaccination rates to ICU admissions to doses pledged and doses delivered.  The tracker is launching today.  It’s publicly accessible at a website, COVID19globaltracker.org.  It will grow as more data is added.

And it will help provide two critical elements for stopping the pandemic: transparency, because we need a centralized source of data to stay ahead of COVID, and accountability, because we all need to follow through on our commitments.  Second, we know it’s not enough simply to deliver vaccines to a country.  Countries then need to turn those vaccines into vaccinations, shots in arms.  And we’re seeing how complicated that can be.  A new public-private partnership called the Global COVID Corps will help.  Through this initiative, leading private sector companies will work pro bono to share their expertise and capabilities to support vaccination campaigns, taking on issues like managing supply chains and helping optimize vaccine sites to deliver shots as quickly and safely as possible.  The private sector has unique skills and resources to bring to bear in this fight.  Let’s make the most of them.

Finally, we need to ensure that people who cannot be reached by government vaccination campaigns aren’t left out of our efforts.  They need to be protected too.  I’m pleased to share that the United States has helped broker a deal between J&J and COVAX to facilitate the first delivery of J&J vaccines to people living in conflict zones and other humanitarian settings.  We’re eager for people in these difficult circumstances to get protection against COVID-19 as soon as possible.  We know the urgency of this fight.  We know what we need to do to stop the pandemic.  Now, we’ve got to do it.

We’ve got to be ambitious because ending this pandemic demands it.  We’ve got to be relentless because this pandemic is relentless.  And we have to be coordinated and united because that’s what a global health emergency like this requires.  So I hope we can make the most of our time together today and in the days ahead.  Let’s keep up this work together as we move forward to save lives now and to strengthen global health security for the future.

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