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WHO hails India’s initiative on global digital health network

The Covid-19 pandemic exposed a “glaring inequity” of access to vaccines and treatments, which must be bridged before another such outbreak hits the world, said Ayoade Alakija, a global leader in the field of pandemic preparedness and response, co-chair of the Access to Covid-19 Tools Accelerator, and a World Health Organisation (WHO) Special Envoy. She urged the G-20 to help develop a “new global playbook” that will facilitate regional self-sufficiency as well as equitable allocation and access.

Dr Alakija participated in the recently concluded G-20 Health Ministers’ meeting at Gandhinagar and spoke to The Hindu in the capital about the lessons learnt from Covid and the preparations needed for a future pandemic.

Disparity amidst collaboration
Stating that equitable access to health care remains an issue of vital importance, she said: “The Covid-19 pandemic, despite its many challenges, has illuminated the resilience and adaptability of the global scientific community. Within an almost unbelievably short timeframe, we witnessed the coming together of researchers, medical experts, and institutions. Together, they pushed boundaries, producing not just vaccines, but also diagnostics and therapeutics that would typically have taken years to develop. This unprecedented collaboration is a testament to what humanity can achieve when united by a common purpose.”

She adds that amidst these advancements during Covid, a stark disparity also emerged. “Where we failed was access, and this is where we must learn the lessons ahead of a next pandemic,” said Dr Alakija, a global health expert who has deployed diplomacy to bring together the global north and south in coordinated responses to the pandemic.

“While some regions surged ahead with vaccinations and treatments, others were left waiting. This glaring inequity serves as a profound lesson. As we look to the future and the potential of new health challenges, we must vow to never let access be the barrier that divides our global community,’’ she said.

Dr Alakija is also the co-chair of the African Union’s African Vaccine Delivery Alliance and founder of the Emergency Coordination Centre in Nigeria, building on her work with over 100 nations around the globe.

Inclusive innovation
Highlighting the significance of the G-20 meetings with the backdrop of the Covid pandemic, she said: “The world has been given a clear mandate to establish a new platform for the development, production and delivery of medical countermeasures. This isn’t just about innovation; it’s about ensuring that every step—from idea to delivery—serves every corner of our global family.”

Accountability, inclusion, and solidarity were the key lessons that the Indian healthcare system has presented and taught the world and that is also the most significant take-away from the G-20 health meetings, she said.

She added that India had not only invited countries beyond the G-20 group to the health meetings, but had also ensured that their voices were heard and that a democratic consensus was built about the health road map for the future.

Digital health network
Dr Alakija lauded India’s initiative in developing the promise of digital advancement, with the launch of the WHO Global Initiative on Global Health as part of its G-20 presidency.

“India has set an exemplary standard, harnessing the promise of digital health. The launch of the WHO digital health network during its G20 Presidency isn’t just a step—it’s a leap. But for the vast potential of digital health to be fully realized, especially in regions with limited resources, we need a fusion of state-of-the-art infrastructure and visionary leadership, ensuring that everyone, everywhere, can access the healthcare they deserve,’’ she said.

Regional self-sufficiency needed
Dr Alakija explained that to improve access to medical interventions, the world must agree on frameworks that facilitate regional self-sufficiency as well as equitable allocation and access.

“To ensure that every individual, irrespective of geography, can benefit from medical advancements, we need a new global playbook. A strategy that champions regional autonomy and self-sufficiency, but also underscores the importance of equitable allocation and universal access,’’ she said. The Hindu

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