The Platform

Alan Santos/PR

The G20 has been credited with providing a coordinated response to economic and financial crises since its inception in 1999. With that said, its role has become more important than ever in dealing with the pandemic. The G20’s structure enables member countries and their representatives from different sections of society to share information and best practices, both of which are crucial for international cooperation.

Additionally, the G20’s informal nature allows a considerable amount of flexibility to the G20 process, giving member countries the option to craft and lead agendas and create interdisciplinary approaches to global policies. This is needed during a pandemic, when uncertainty is significant and varies across countries.

The G20 can contribute by lending political support to existing multilateral bodies and agreements. It can set norms on healthcare as a global public good and mandate a globally representative task force to evaluate and improve International Health Regulations.

The G20’s support can help revive the credibility of the WHO and restore its position as the designated global body to act at a time of a health crisis. Political will coming from the highest levels of government, displayed at the G20, can drive the renegotiation of existing WHO arrangements and agreements and can facilitate the introduction and quick ratification of new ones.

The WHO can be a special invitee at G20 summits every year. A special G20 task force or engagement group on health, the H20 (Health20), can be convened to increase international awareness of health as a global issue and promote research, joint partnerships, and a collaborative response in case of future pandemics. The G20 should emphasize the nexus between health governance and other policy areas.

The G20 can continue to encourage its member countries to increase their contributions to WHO’s funding to avoid disproportionate contributions and power plays by its larger donors. The G20 can display its support for the worldwide implementation of International Health Regulations. The G20 can encourage its member countries to make concrete commitments to provide vaccines, medical equipment, drugs, and technical and financial assistance to countries in need, even outside the G20. This will improve global pandemic preparedness.

The G20 must work towards extracting commitments from member countries to contribute vaccines to the COVAX initiative and to increase their voluntary funding contributions to the WHO. In fact, in June, at the G7 summit, world leaders pledged 1 billion COVID vaccine doses for developing countries. Despite it being a small amount in comparison to the evident demand, this pledge is still a start. Similar pledges from countries that have the capacity are essential.

Some initiatives to that effect are already in the works. The World Bank, WHO, IMF, and the WTO have formed a task force on COVID vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics for developing countries.

The G20 High Level Independent Panel (HLIP) on Financing the Global Commons for Pandemic Preparedness and Response, formulated in January, to ensure that the world is better prepared for future health threats has submitted its report titled, “A Global Deal for our Pandemic Age,” to the G20’s finance ministers and central bank governors at their recent meeting in July.

The ministers and governors also committed to working with international financial institutions and relevant partners, in particular the WHO, to develop proposals for sustainable financing to strengthen future pandemic preparedness and response, and to improve international governance and coordination between global health and finance policymakers. The G20 Joint Finance and Health Ministers’ meeting will be held in October and the G20 has tasked experts from the ministries of finance and health of the member countries to follow up with concrete proposals to be presented at that meeting.

One way to further global health diplomacy can be the appointment of health attaches at diplomatic missions. Diplomatic missions usually have a political, economic, and security attaché that serves as a bridge between governments on issues of political or economic importance. A health attaché, at the cusp of global health and foreign affairs, can carry out diplomatic engagements and exchanges between governments on health issues by identifying common areas of cooperation, fostering agreements on healthcare, and coordinating with different stakeholders.

To enable this, every country must introduce a unit for global health diplomats as part of its diplomatic corps. Training and capacity-building workshops to teach them how to align public health and foreign policy must be given to deserving candidates.

Such dedicated officers will be best suited to provide that first speedy response to any future health crises. This will be beneficial, not just for countries to receive or share medical supplies, but also to factor in the needs of their diaspora in other countries.

The G20’s role in containing the pandemic and furthering the global health agenda, to be better prepared for future pandemics, must be taken seriously by all the member countries. Tedros Adhanom, the WHO’s Director-General, in September called for commitment and support of G20 countries to reach the WHO’s global target for every country to vaccinate at least 10% of its population by the end of September, at least 40% by the end of 2021, and 70% by mid-2022.

In the current scenario, the security of every country lies in its global health security. Global health security and pandemic preparedness in today’s times is just as important as countering terrorism and building financial resilience. It has thus far remained on the side-lines of discussions at global forums like the G20 or has been limited to debates on sexual health and reproductive health. But now, health policy must hold a crucial place in such global policy debates. Discussions on equitable access to healthcare systems and drugs, universal health coverage, capacity-building programs, training of medical professionals, and funding for healthcare R&D are probably the most essential initiatives at the moment. This requires strong leadership and a long-term commitment from global leaders and heads of multilateral institutions.

Purvaja Modak is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Public Policy Research (CPPR). Her research focuses on issues of global economic governance, international trade and finance, economic diplomacy and multilateral financial institutions. Prior to joining CPPR, she was a Researcher for Geoeconomic Studies and the Manager of the Research Office at Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations, a Mumbai based foreign policy think tank. She was a fellow at the 2nd G20 Global Leadership Programme 2019, hosted by the Korean Development Institute (KDI) and the Korean Ministry of Strategy and Finance.