Global Health on G-20 Agenda

This month, the health ministers of G-20 countries are gathering in Berlin for the first meeting of its kind. Global health advocates are hopeful the meeting will spur support of global health R&D in tackling neglected diseases, antimicrobial resistance and pandemic preparedness. Advocates believe mobilizing the G-20 countries towards better global health collaboration provides economic and political benefits. Specifically, the intersection of global health and security is believed to be a catalyst to drive new resources.

Lab technicians review samples during baseline mapping for schistosomiasis and soil-transmitted helminths in Nigeria. Photo by: RTI / CC BY-NC-ND

Neglected diseases can no longer be labelled as strictly tropical, some argue, but should be considered neglected poverty-related diseases. Such change in vernacular reflects the indifferences of disease to borders. The diseases remain neglected in large part because they historically affect poor and developing countries, bolstered by the lack of sanitation and infrastructure. Neglected diseases are also consistently underfunded in R&D, often because they do not fit the traditional pharma business model. The lack of resources means resistance, as diseases evolve to outdated drugs.

Climate change is impacting these diseases, allowing them to emerge and expand. As urban population centers grow rapidly, outpacing infrastructure, disease spreads and pandemic risk grows. Many believe the international community is not prepared for another pandemic. Lessons learned in the Ebola crisis are reflected in the global health SDGs. The SDGs signal hope to drive forward improvement of health systems and vaccine access, but many felt more focused platform necessary – enter G-20, which put global health on agenda for first time in 2016.

G-20 countries have seen firsthand the burden of poverty-related disease, with tuberculosis and malaria presenting in many member countries. Working together, G-20 countries could develop funding policy, combine efforts to incentivize pharma and researchers to focus on neglected poverty-related diseases, antimicrobial resistance and pandemic preparedness and response. G-20 members Japan, U.K. and others have devoted significant funds for R&D for neglected poverty-related diseases. G-20 offers opportunity for these initiatives to be shared with others, facilitate information sharing and streamline governance for new and emerging initiatives.

As advocates in G-20 nations promote aid investments as imperative to national security, they can use pandemic preparedness as a strong argument to their case. Including health ministers in R&D global health discussion allows for united front in advocating for more funding innovation, necessary for protecting from pandemics.

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