The German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and Federal Ministry of Health (BMG) joined forces to host a high-level meeting on pandemics. Despite the challenges ahead, a sense of hope and determination prevailed that progress can be made. On 28 September, a high-level forum in Berlin brought together leading representatives from the worlds of politics, civil society, international organisations, private sector, and academia to discuss how to move forwards in key areas of pandemic prevention, preparedness and response.
Professor Marion Koopmans, Scientific Leader of the PDPC and Head of the Department of Viroscience Erasmus MC, participated as a panelist in a discussion on Integrated Surveillance and Public Intelligence, including data exchange. Other panelists included Chikwe Ihekweazu (Assistant Director-General, Health Emergency Intelligence and Surveillance Systems, World Health Organization (WHO)), Simon Antara (Director, African Field Epidemiology Network (AFENET)), Pilar Hernández (Managing Director, SORMAS Foundation), and Johanna Hanefeld (Head of the Centre for International Health Protection, Robert Koch Institute (RKI)). The discussion was part of the
Integrated surveillance means combining data for the common good
Chikwe Ihekweazu, Assistant Director-General, Health Emergency Intelligence and Surveillance Systems at the WHO, kicked off the final panel of the day by emphasizing the need for getting existing technologies into the health space, saying, ‘we need to take the sacredness out of health data and come to a common understanding of why this is necessary.’ Johanna Hanefeld added that more robust regulation, better standardisation, and networking between and across countries and regions will help partners to seize the opportunities for data sharing and exchange offered by digital solutions.
Simon Antara, Director of the African Field Epidemiology Network (AFENET) highlighted the lack of frontline health workers, and in particular of trained field epidemiologists, which poses a serious barrier for pandemic prevention and preparedness. The health workforce is one of five strategic pillars of the New Public Health Order: Africa’s health security Agenda launched by Africa CDC on behalf of the African Union in 2021. As Jean Kaseya mentioned, this Agenda will also address critical gaps in capacities for capturing data electronically for surveillance purposes.
Referring to the need to integrate data from disparate sources, Marion Koopmans, Head of the Erasmus University Medical Center, Department of Viroscience, emphasised that a One Health approach is critical for the success of efforts to prevent, prepare for, and respond to pandemics. She also talked of the potential of citizen scientists to enhance surveillance efforts.
Prof. Marion Kooplans: “We need a multi-partite partnership with the goal of combining data for the common good, which is challenging. A key lesson of past years is not to think that this can be solved from within the public health sphere.”
We have consistently forgotten the lessons of the past
An essential element of the changes required for tackling global health must be to learn the hard lessons of the past. Michael Ryan, Executive Director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, pointed out that, after a major global event such as the COVID-19 pandemic, we are having the same conversations that took place after swine flu, after SARS and after Ebola, saying ‘we have consistently forgotten those lessons’.
The importance of investing in the times between pandemics
Many of the speakers highlighted the need to invest during the times between pandemics – in basic science, in resilient health systems, and in the people, institutions and research science that will drive the delivery of future public health solutions.
Jeremy Farrar, Chief Scientist of the World Health Organization (WHO), delivered a keynote speech on Vaccines, Therapeutics, and Diagnostics – Equitable Access, Regional Manufacturing, and Risk Communication during the event.
Farrar stated that new and innovative approaches are needed to tackle the scourge of public health misinformation that is spread through Artificial Intelligence (AI).
And that we need to shift how we think from ‘this is something that frightens us in London, Berlin, and Paris’ to ‘this is something that is critically important for all of us all of the time’.
Check out the report of the day here: https://health.bmz.de/events/a-high-level-forum-on-pandemics-no-time-for-neglect/