WGS Virtual Health Forum: National Unity and Global Solidarity Key in the Face of COVID-19 Pandemic

22 June 2020

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His Excellency Mohammad Abdullah Al Gergawi, Minister of Cabinet Affairs and the Future and Chairman of the World Government Summit (WGS), stressed that strengthening global cooperation and developing opportunities for global partnerships in shaping the future is a key objective for the World Government Summit. In line with the directives of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, to provide a global platform for dialogue and knowledge exchange and using it to serve humanity and to create a better future for the future generations.

He said that the challenges the world is going through as a result of the spread of the novel coronavirus require the development of a forward-looking vision that benefits from the lessons of the current circumstances.

His Excellency Al Gergawi added that the World Government Summit works in partnership with governments, international organizations, experts, and decision makers around the world to unify visions about the future of vital sectors.

National unity and global solidarity are key in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, the WHO chief told a webinar organized by World Government Summit, adding that the effects of the Coronavirus crisis will be felt for decades to come.

The Virtual Health Forum, organized by the World Government Summit as part of its COVID-19 & Government online series, kicked off with a keynote address from H.E. Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization. His Excellency AbdulRahman Bin Mohammed Al Owais, Minister of Health and Prevention, UAE; Her Excellency Lena Hallengren, Minister of Health and Social Affairs, Kingdom of Sweden; His Excellency Bent Høie, Minister of Health and Care Services, Kingdom of Norway; and Dr. David Nabarro, WHO Director General Special Envoy on COVID-19, also addressed the Virtual Health Forum, with more than 20,000 government officials, international organization representatives, high-level executives, experts, and specialists in the audience.

H.E. Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization, kicked off by offering his thanks to His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, and ruler of the Emirate of Dubai, for his leadership in bringing the world together to reimagine the future.

He also lauded His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, for his generous support in donating and distributing medical supplies and equipment to countries across the globe.

Turning to the issue of COVID-19, Dr. Ghebreyesus said the Coronavirus pandemic hit at a time when the world was not prepared, resulting in a crisis on many levels – health-wise, economically, socially and even politically.

Since the 31st of December, 2019, when it received the first report of cases in China, WHO has been working day and night to coordinate the global response, provide evidence-based scientific and technical guidance, catalyze research and development and provide direct support to countries, most in need, Dr. Ghebreyesus told the seminar.

Seven Priorities

Lamenting the lack of global solidarity, the WHO chief highlighted what he said were seven areas in which the international community must work together to mitigate and prevent future pandemics – funding; data management and analytics and real-time communications; a global health emergency stockpile for medical equipment and supplies; all countries must invest in their health workforce; a coordinated effort to discover, develop and deliver effective, and fit-for-purpose tools and technologies such as vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics; universal health coverage; and national unity, and global solidarity.

“We rang the alarm bell early and often, declaring a global health emergency, our highest level of alert on the 30th of January, when there were less than hundred cases, and not outside China. We are working with countries to take a comprehensive approach, while maintaining essential services. We have brought together thousands of experts to analyze the evolving evidence and distill it .. into guidance. We have launched a large international trial to find answers.”

Dr. Ghebreyesus said WHO is working with countries to take a precautionary approach to deal with the pandemic, adding that his organization has already shipped millions of test kits around the world.

He said: “I last addressed the World Government Summit in February 2018. I began that speech by describing the 1918 flu pandemic, which erupted during the first world war.”

“But we know the pandemic is so much more than a health crisis. It's an economic crisis, a social crises. and in many countries, a political crisis.”

“More than 8.8 million cases of COVID-19 have now been reported to WHO from around the world and more than 460,000 people have lost their lives. Globally, the pandemic is still accelerating. It took more than three months for the first 1 million cases to be reported. The last 1 million cases were reported in just eight days.”

H.E. Omar Sultan Al Olama, the UAE Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence and the Director General of the World Government Summit Organization, addressed the webinar’s opening by saying that a united effort from countries was important to dealing with the Coronavirus pandemic.

H.E. Al Olama highlighted the importance of the COVID-19 and Government online series. H.E. Al Olama also said that this forum is an important milestone.

“We are going to show every single person attending this webinar, what the future is going to be like and what we can expect, but at the same time, work on ensuring that we understand exactly what needs to be done to combat this pandemic and what needs to be done to ensure that pandemics do not spread in a similar basis in the future. I hope that you all find this a fruitful conversation and that we can all work together in combatting this current situation ..” he added.

Ministerial Panel Discussion

The Virtual Health Forum also hosted a high-level ministerial panel discussion, which grouped healthcare ministers from Norway, Sweden and the United Arab Emirates who shared their experiences in managing the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as their insights on building a stronger healthcare sector around the world.

His Excellency AbdulRahman Bin Mohammed Al Owais emphasized how the UAE was able to benefit from that fact that its population comprised more than 200 different nationalities by bringing people together though constant dialogue and appealing to their humanity. “This is a challenge and battle for all humanity. A wonderful chance for us to get together. Also to revise our priorities and focus on the health sector,” he added.

For his part, H.E. Høie emphasized Norway’s rapid and early response, high levels of public trust and government transparency as well as the Kingdom’s Universal healthcare system as key factors in its success in combating the pandemic so far. Just two weeks after the first case of infection was discovered, Norway introduced the strongest preventative measures it has seen during peace time, flattening the curve and saving lives. Norway’s strategy has now shifted from suppressing the virus to controlling it.

Joining the webinar from a visit to a healthcare center in Sweden, H.E. Hallengren echoed H.E. Høie in highlighting the importance of public trust in government institutions. The Swedish Health Minister noted that despite social distancing restrictions being less strict than those of its neighbors, Swedish citizens had an exceptionally high rate of compliance with government guidelines.

Sweden also took the unusual step of keeping schools and daycare facilities open, due to what she said was both the lack of evidence indicating that closure would limit the spread of infection and the fact that doing so would reduce the number of available healthcare professionals in the workforce.

H.E. Hallengren also highlighted the importance of taking a broad perspective on the Coronavirus pandemic while remaining flexible in strategy and method. She noted that despite early preventative measures in Sweden the elderly in care home facilities were impacted particularly badly by the pandemic, and she pointed to growing evidence of different genders being disproportionately affected.

Underscoring the need for international collaboration, both H.E. Hallengren and H.E. Høie were vocal in their commitment to what they said was a fair global distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine, once discovered.

Adaptation to New Reality a Must

At the start of his session, Dr. David Nabarro, WHO Director General Special Envoy on COVID-19, reflected on the previous panel discussion with the Ministers, and the keynote address by His Excellency Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization, and offered himself as somebody whom attendees can discuss matters that perplex them about the virus and the disease it causes.

The world still has a long way to go in dealing with the dangerous COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic, making adaptation to this new reality a must, he noted.

“Firstly, it’s up to all of us to change our behavior so we can live with this virus as a constant threat. Otherwise, it’ll defeat us, and it’s going to be us humans who have it in our hands. I want to really take that seriously; I think we all need to be helping each other to make sense of the virus and to work through what the shared responsibility is.”

“Secondly, it’s about the places – places where we work, places where we live – are we making certain that we’re keeping our places as safe as possible. When we’re out in public, it’s about protecting ourselves and others by physical distancing and face mask-wearing. These are the things that we really got to get used to, but they’re difficult because there are many places in the world where this virus is now advancing, and they’re very hard places to control – particularly when people are living very [very] closely together.”

“Thirdly, it’s about public health, and really investing properly in public health. Some countries had forgotten about public health recently, and they put a lot of money into hospitals, but I think public health really matters. I was delighted to hear the emphasis from all the panelists on really testing, tracing, and isolating. Then, suppressing outbreaks.”

Listing key learnings about COVID-19, Dr. Nabarro dismissed the notion that it is a virus that only impacted older people and should not be taken lightly.

“We used to think that it was only older people who got into difficulty, but the more we study, the more we realize younger people as well. We’re also seeing younger people having major illness, lasting for many weeks. So, please, take it seriously. Don’t treat it lightly, because it is dangerous, and that’s a big learning.”

“Second learning, really, is that we don’t fully understand immunity. So, if somebody has the virus, do they actually get immune to getting the virus again? Not sure. So, what are we going to do about that? Surely, we need to know about it. Yes, we’re doing lots of studies. So, there’s a lot of work going on, but I think on immunity – there are still a lot of questions being passed.”

“Thirdly, perhaps the most important, when you’ve got an outbreak – act quickly, and act robustly, and stop it. Don’t wait. Don’t say to yourself – we’ll just let it go on for a bit and see what happens. Then, you get into the mess that some countries, who were very slow to act, have gotten into the last few weeks or months. Because, the virus expands exponentially in society. So, just, really important – you got a few cases? Act very rapidly and robustly. You don’t need to shut down the whole country, but you do need to be very precise.”

In his advice to governments, Dr Nabarro said: “Many governments have got the story, just a little bit not right. I wouldn’t say wrong, but I just think not right. I open the newspaper, and what am I seeing? Government all over the place just debating – are they going to prioritize the economy, or are they going to prioritize public health? And, I don’t think it’s like that. The way I see it – you’ve got to deal with the public health, for the economy to be strong. If you don’t have a good public health service in the community, then the economy is susceptible. We heard it from all our speakers – the importance of getting public health right. So, my first point is – please make sure that you have invested adequately in community-based public health services, so that it’s possible to identify people who’ve got the disease, and to make sure they’re isolated. I’d say that, that then becomes the central feature of what government have to have in place in order to loosen up the economy and restart movement.”

In response to the million-dollar question about a vaccine being ready, Dr Nabarro said: “I’ve worked a lot on Malaria, and I worked a lot on HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. We don’t have a really reliable vaccine either against Malaria, or against HIV. And, you know we’ve been, as a society, working on vaccines on these conditions for a long time. So, I’m just saying to people – don’t assume that there will be a vaccine against COVID-19 quickly. Therefore, I say – please plan to have to live with this virus for the foreseeable future, and that I think will make life a bit easier.”

The World Government Summit Foundation last month launched an online series, "COVID-19 & Government", discussing the global impact of COVID-19 and the future of government beyond this pandemic, hosting 30 global speakers, experts, and government leaders. The series aims to enhance the role of governments in responding to the new frontiers set by the novel Coronavirus and shape the future of governments in the "post-Coronavirus" era by analyzing the latest developments and effects of the virus on governments worldwide. The COVID-19 & Government” online series is held remotely to review the latest developments related to Coronavirus and discuss their effects on government work in 7 vital sectors, namely: education, healthcare, economy, security, infrastructure, governance and leadership.