A free monkeypox vaccine site in the Miami area of Florida on Aug. 22: The crises of tomorrow are already here. © Sipa/AP
Dr. Mandeep Dhaliwal is director of the HIV and health group at the U.N. Development Program. Dr. Osamu Kunii is chief executive of the Tokyo-based Global Health Innovative Technology Fund.
The COVID-19 pandemic is far from over but already we are facing another global outbreak with no end in sight.
Although experts previously warned that monkeypox could transform into a global health threat, the world was unprepared for its emergence on the present scale. Cases are spreading around the world, demonstrating once again that infectious diseases do not recognize national borders.
Clearly, our current systems are not delivering us health security and we are not yet undertaking the collaborative actions necessary to protect humanity from emerging health threats. We are also leaving behind some of the most vulnerable. A new approach is needed.
The global community must come together in solidarity to build a more integrated, partnership-driven global health architecture. The declaration issued last month at the end of the Tokyo International Conference on African Development in Tunisia specifically noted the need for forward-looking strategies and partnerships to address health systems gaps and achieve universal health coverage in Africa.
Innovative international partnerships are filling gaps in funding and delivering implementable innovations, including the Global Health Innovative Technology Fund and the U.N. Development Program-led Access and Delivery Partnership (ADP), both with the support of the Japanese government.
These initiatives share common goals, which are also prominently reflected in the new global health strategy of Japan: building international cooperation and coordination to better equip the world to safeguard health security and enhancing prevention, preparedness and response efforts to public health crises, including pandemics.
These models offer proof of concept and a clear, replicable path forward.
The GHIT Fund was created to fulfill an unmet need, with a mission to invest in necessary but underfunded and under-researched health technologies. In the 10 years since its inception, GHIT has invested in more than 100 product development programs, 56 of which are still ongoing.
The most advanced project in development is arpraziquantel, a potential treatment option for preschool-aged children affected by schistosomiasis, a tropical disease prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa. The program recently completed clinical development with positive results from pivotal Phase 3 testing and is currently preparing for regulatory submissions to the European Medicines Agency, with an expected launch in 2024.
However, medicines and innovations are only effective if they reach people who need them. Enter ADP, which in anticipation of arpraziquantel's approval, is supporting the National Institute for Medical Research in Tanzania, where 53,316 children under the age of five were infected with schistosomiasis in 2019, with an initiative to coordinate efforts across national institutions to address and overcome implementation challenges, such as a recommendation to integrate schistosomiasis treatment into existing deworming programs.
End-to-end approaches like these, where health innovations are designed together with equitable implementation plans that can overcome the access challenges faced by vulnerable populations, are critical for achieving universal health coverage -- a key pillar of health security.
The COVID-19 pandemic also offers valuable lessons on the importance of innovating and implementing in parallel and investing in sustainable and resilient systems for health. The pandemic spurred the development of digital health tools like online health records, telemedicine and data, and ADP's expertise helped ensure the needs of vulnerable communities were considered and the tools deployed equitably to great effect.
The Indonesian Ministry of Health, supported by ADP, adopted a digital platform called SMILE that enables remote monitoring of vaccine inventories and storage temperatures. It has now been scaled up to 10,000 health facilities across the country.
UNDP has supported the introduction of similar digital systems to scale up COVID-19 vaccination programs in India and Bhutan, too, ultimately supporting the full vaccination of over 1 billion people.
The benefits of these investments in innovation, implementation and systems for health extend well beyond COVID-19. ADP-supported partners in Benin, Burkina Faso and Senegal are exploring the use of digital tools to remotely monitor the status of patients' health, helping ensure continuity of care even amid disruptions.
As monkeypox is making painfully clear, the crises of tomorrow are already here. Ignoring the needs of people living in low- and middle-income countries only serves to endanger more people in more places. A human security approach recognizes that we cannot mitigate and respond to emerging health threats with fragmented efforts. Rather, global solidarity and partnership are necessary.
The GHIT Fund and UNDP are committed to forging stronger partnerships and to seeking new ones with key stakeholders in the innovation, access and delivery process. We know these will be essential to achieving pandemic preparedness and health security.
Starting with partnerships, we can transform our global health architecture and we can make progress against entrenched health challenges, stop pandemic threats in their tracks and drive progress toward a future where health coverage is resilient, sustainable and equitable.
There is no time to waste. Our health and human security depend on it.
This article was originally published in https://asia.nikkei.com