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The Rise of Global Health Diplomacy

Seven months after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic countries around the world continue to struggle as we work towards an equitable global recovery plan. Over 40 world leaders joined the 2020 Meridian Summit to explore The Rise of Global Health Diplomacy, agreeing that a collective multidisciplinary and multifaceted approach is the only solution to solve this international crisis

Executive Summary

On October 23, 2020, Meridan virtually convened more than 40 world leaders to explore solutions to shared challenges at The Meridian Summit on The Rise of Global Health Diplomacy. The Summit was comprised of eight sessions of over nine hours of content, on topics ranging from global health security, healthcare equity, supply chains, the role of private-public partnerships in economic recovery efforts and health innovations in the time of COVID-19. Each session featured leaders in the health and diplomatic spaces from across sectors and borders, whose conversations presented salient emerging themes and key takeaways. Below is a summary of these overarching themes and takeaways from each session.

1. GLOBAL HEALTH DIPLOMACY IS NATIONAL SECURITY. COVID-19 is an imminent threat to every government in the world and knows no borders. As a national security risk, the pandemic has heightened the need for cooperation across sectors to promote community buy-in for an effective, holistic response to global health. Governments and companies alike must restore public trust in health institutions and systems to respond to the crisis and ensure an equitable, sustained recovery.

2. SUPPLY CHAIN RESILIENCY IS ESSENTIAL. Just as the coronavirus affects all people, all countries’ health and economic recovery are dependent on effective global supply chains. To improve the resiliency of local and international medical supply chains, both the public and private sectors must make a more concerted effort to coordinate how they manufacture and purchase goods. Manufacturing could improve by expanding production of personal protective equipment (PPE) and pharmaceuticals, which tend to be made in the same areas, to other countries and regions. Governments and private companies should also be more intentional about diversifying the sources where they purchase goods and services.

3. COOPERATION IS KEY. “This virus did not start in one country and stay there, and the solution will not start in one country and stay there,” noted Fred Hochberg, former Export-Import Bank Chairman. A diversity of perspectives is essential to accrue better solutions and spur innovation, and sustained global cooperation will ultimately create more opportunity for everyone, as opposed to dividing the world into “haves” and “have nots.” By focusing on bilateral, regional and international cooperation, both with other governments and with the private sector, governments can create more opportunities for manufacturing and bolster the global economy.

4. GLOBAL SOLUTIONS NEED LOCAL APPLICATIONS. The magnitude of a public health crisis like the coronavirus requires collaboration between citizens and government leaders to design localized solutions to this global challenge. It is imperative to recognize that these solutions will likely come from the local population that will take into account the cultural and environmental factors when developing practical responses that meet the unique needs of its impacted people and communities. In-country actors must support their local health workforce and empower local leaders to drive robust and sustainable local solutions that also build and restore public trust.

5. INVESTING IN EQUITABLE HEALTH CARE CAN’T WAIT. Generations to come will feel the ramifications of today’s broken health system. Mental health issues will continue to rise, small and minority-owned businesses will continue to fail, and populations disproportionately affected by the virus due to the history of oppression will continue to be set back. This pandemic has caused the most inequitable recession in our American history, with financial insecurity rising among Black and Hispanic communities hit hardest by the coronavirus. As the coronavirus knows no borders, today’s globalized economy cannot afford for there to be winners and losers if a future pandemic arises—the time for equitable health care is now.


The Call for Global Health Diplomacy Plenary

1. WE NEED A MULTILATERAL APPROACH TO GLOBAL HEALTH. COVID-19 has brought to light inadequacies in preparedness and response, holes in supply chains, and weaknesses in communication and data sharing. This is not a challenge that can be confined or solved by one group. As Sally Susman, Executive Vice President and Chief Corporate Affairs Officer at Pfizer pointed out, there’s a symbiotic relationship between business, public health, and diplomacy – and we need to draw upon the expertise from each sector to develop a multi-lateral approach to better position ourselves for the next global health crisis.

2. GLOBAL HEALTH DIPLOMACY AS AN ECONOMIC SOLUTION. “COVID has shown that the globe is smaller now, no disease is more than a day’s plane ride from your front door,” U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams emphasized. Public health has often been characterized as anti-business, for example pitting pollution against job creation, but the greatest expense for Fortune 500 companies is healthcare. Communities that are unhealthy cost businesses absenteeism, turnover and lower production. When businesses invest in the health of their communities and workforces, it boosts the bottom line.

3. THE FIRST CHALLENGE TO TACKLE IS GLOBAL SUPPLY CHAIN AND EQUITABLE DISTRIBUTION. Elise Labott, Founder of Twopoint.o Media, joined Ambassador Ulrik Vestergaard Knudsen, Deputy Secretary-General with the OECD, in a conversation on the impact of a global health crisis on diplomatic efforts. COVID has been an amplifier of mega-trends, with both positive and negative implications. Digitally we’ve leaped ahead, but there’s an undeniable — and possibly permanent — negative impact on globalization and trade. Knudsen cautioned against a nationalist approach to producing medical equipment and supplies, pointing out the key challenge is ensuring equitable distribution between developed and less-developed countries in terms of supplies and vaccines.

4. IMPACT OF GLOBAL HEALTH DIPLOMACY IS HARD TO MEASURE. Although health diplomacy as a field is new, it is quickly becoming as important as public diplomacy in the considerations of foreign policy. Speakers were quick to point out the difficulty in evaluating something we haven’t seen before with less obvious markers of success. How do you sustain political will in planning — and budgeting — for a worst-case scenario when the indicator of success means that it never happens? Resiliency in recovery must be top-of-mind for decision-makers.

5. U.S. NEEDS DIVERSE PERSPECTIVES IN PUBLIC HEALTH DECISION-MAKING. Representatives Gerry Connolly (D-VA) and Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA) spoke with Carmen Paun, Health Reporter at POLITICO, on the need for diversity in Congressional decision-making. Quoting John Donne, “No man is an island to himself,” Connolly pointed out that the U.S. needs to lean into international collaboration to address international challenges, while also working to diversify our reliance on imported medicine and equipment. Praising the current Congress as the most diverse in history, Rep. Houlahan underscored that more perspectives lead to better decisions that reflect everyone’s differing realities.


Check out the full debrief with highlights and key takeaways.

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