COVID-19 & The Political Imperative for Health Security

Newsletter Edition #83 [The Weekly Primer]

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WHO has great speech writers.

Sample this, from last week: “This moment in history is one of extreme fragility,” DG Tedros said in his remarks.

The simultaneous humanitarian crises in Myanmar, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Haiti undoubtedly defines WHO’s response in these vulnerable settings. But this moment of fragility can also be understood at other levels.

How we process this pandemic and the policy choices it offers for the future, is also at a somewhat fragile moment in time.

The pandemic has been a huge opportunity for the global health security complex. Its inexorable push to securitize global health discussions in definitive terms cannot be underestimated.

And yet, the next few months in Geneva and beyond will reveal, how this moment in time will be shaped by prevailing geopolitics, and the politics of nationalism and insecurity. What will this mean for what we understand as global health? What will it mean for you and me, or any other common man or woman on the street, and our future generations?

We expect a considerable amount of push back against this narrative, whether it will be strong enough to fight this, is another matter. After all, the health security ecosystem is well-oiled with deep pockets.

As you can tell, the brief editorial break in August has given me the time to reflect on some of these big questions and primed me for what is coming. Thank you for your understanding and indulgence.

Last week we pointed out that that the SARS-CoV-2 origins debate may be fueling pandemic treaty talks. And in case you missed, check out this important guest essay that we featured last Friday by TWN lawyers, "Do We Really Need a Pandemic Treaty?".

We also announced a summer flash sale: get 20% off on our subscriptions if you sign up before September 1, 2021. Support us by becoming paying readers for an unblinkered view on global health politics in Geneva.

Until later!



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Flash Summer Sale


Call for experts to join Scientific Advisory Group for the Origins of Novel Pathogens: WHO

Last week WHO made headlines when it announced the Scientific Advisory Group for the Origins of Novel Pathogens. It is envisioned that the SAGO will have up to 25 members “to advise WHO on technical and scientific considerations on the origins of emerging and re-emerging pathogens of epidemic and pandemic potential.”

The advisory group will also help guide WHO on the proposed China studies on the origins of SARS-CoV-2.

In its statement, WHO has said that given the increasing number of high threat pathogens emerging and re-emerging in recent years with, for example, SARS-CoV, MERS-CoV, Lassa, Marburg, Ebola, Nipah, avian influenza, SARS-CoV-2, “there is a clear need for robust surveillance and early actions for rapid detection and mitigation efforts, as well as systematic processes to study the emergence of these pathogens and routes of transmission from their natural reservoirs to humans.”

This is being described as “a global framework to study the emergence of new and known high threat pathogens needs to be comprehensive and coordinated based on a One Health approach. It should also encompass biosafety and biosecurity.” It also seeks to detect “Disease X” - WHO’s shorthand for emerging pandemic threats.

“Members of the SAGO are expected to have significant expertise in one or more of the following technical disciplines in order to ensure a One Health approach: infectious disease epidemiology and conducting epidemiological studies, field research, virology, ecology, molecular epidemiology, sero-epidemiology, medicine, bioinformatics, outbreak analytics, health statistics, microbiology, veterinary medicine, food safety, bacteriology, environmental science, biosafety, biosecurity, occupational health and safety, or laboratory safety and security, ethics and social sciences, or other activities related to the emergence or re-emergence of pathogens of pandemic potential,” the terms of reference document states.

The statement from WHO said:

In the context of SARS-CoV-2 origins:

To provide the WHO Secretariat with an independent evaluation of all available scientific and technical findings from global studies on the origins of SARS-CoV-2;

To advise the WHO Secretariat regarding developing, monitoring and supporting the next series of studies into the origins of SARS-CoV-2, including rapid advice on WHO's operational plans to implement the next series of global studies into the origins of SARS-CoV-2, as outlined in the ‘Joint WHO-China Global Study of Origins of SARS-CoV-2: China Part’ report published on 30 March 2021 and advise on additional studies as needed; and

To provide additional advice and support to WHO, as requested by the WHO SAGO Secretariat, which may include participation in future WHO-international missions to study the origins of SARS-CoV-2 or for other emerging pathogens.

What we also found interesting in the ToRs:

“WHO may, at its sole discretion, invite external individuals from time to time to attend the open sessions of an advisory group, or parts thereof, as “observers”. Observers may be invited either in their personal capacity, or as representatives from a governmental institution/intergovernmental organization, or from a non-state actor. WHO will request observers invited in their personal capacity to complete a confidentiality undertaking and a Declaration of Interests form prior to attending a session of the advisory group. Invitations to observers attending as representatives from non-state actors will be subject to internal due diligence and conflict of interest considerations in accordance with FENSA. Observers invited as representatives may also be requested to complete a confidentiality undertaking. Observers shall normally attend meetings of the SAGO at their own expense and be responsible for making all arrangements in that regard.”

Also see: Has the WHO just advertised the toughest job in the world? The Telegraph

Delayed Wuhan Report Adds Crucial Detail to Covid Origin Puzzle: Bloomberg

Riveting “epidemiological sleuthing”. Read on.

How Chinese pressure on coronavirus origins probe shocked the WHO — and led its director to push back: The Washington Post

Here We Go Again: U.S. Policy and Health Security: Think Global Health

An incisive piece on what is driving the health security agenda in the U.S., and by extension elsewhere. It also discusses the limitations of this approach.

Health Security and the COVID-19 Pandemic: Health and Security for Whom? Think Global Health

A must read on how the securitization narrative is creeping up everywhere, and with consequences for all of us.

Health leaders criticise limited ACT-A review: The Lancet

On trying to find accountability at the ACT Accelerator.

Canadian Firm Scathing On Obstacles To Compulsory Licensing: Pink Sheet

Are vaccines becoming less effective at preventing Covid infection: Financial Times

WHO calling out the industry again: DG remarks

DG remarks last week:

“In this context, I was stunned by the news that J&J vaccines fill and finished in South Africa are leaving the continent and going to Europe, where virtually all adults have been offered vaccines at this point. We urge J&J to urgently prioritize distribution of their vaccines to Africa before considering supplies to rich countries that already have sufficient access.

Furthermore, following WHO recommendations regarding the use of IL6 blockers, that showed a reduction in death amongst patients hospitalised with severe COVID-19, our current challenge is again limited supply.
We call for equitable allocation and for Roche – the drug maker – to share technology and know-how.”

We also note that WHO praised the US for sharing the largest number of doses, hours before the US CDC announced booster doses to fight COVID-19, contrary to WHO advice on boosters.

(Also see: COVID Booster Vaccines Gain Traction with New US Campaign – Despite WHO Appeals for Moratorium, from HPW)

FDA Approves First COVID-19 Vaccine: US FDA

An explainer on COVID-19 vaccine licenses from Health Justice International

Image credit: Photo by Pixabay from Pexels



My colleague Rithika has pulled this together for you:




Kristof Decoster, Editor, International Health Policies Network at Antwerp’s Institute of Tropical Medicine redefines PPP in global health:


Sara (Meg) Davis on TEDxGeneva

The Uncounted: The people left out of health data

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