BREAKTHROUGHS BLOG

July 02, 2019

G20 leaders commit to advance global health, with partial recognition of R&D’s role

Jamie Bay Nishi, MA
Coalition Director
GHTC
Government of Japan

On Saturday, heads of state and government from the world’s leading economies concluded this year’s G20 Summit in Osaka, Japan by issuing a declaration committing to advance global health.

Noting that “health is a prerequisite for sustainable and inclusive economic growth,” G20 leaders made a myriad of noteworthy commitments in the G20 Osaka Leaders’ Declaration from advancing universal health coverage (UHC), to controlling noncommunicable and communicable diseases, to tackling health emergencies and antimicrobial resistance (AMR). Recognition of the role of research and new technologies in confronting these challenges was present, but inconsistent.

In welcome news, the declaration generally recognized the “importance of science, technology and innovation (STI)” for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and committed to strengthening health systems to achieve UHC by “promoting public and private sector innovation, such as cost-effective and appropriate digital and other innovative technologies.” GHTC was pleased to see this call out for “affordable” and “appropriate” technologies, which are critical elements for addressing health needs in the world’s poorest places, and that leaders recognized that both the public and private sector have a role to play in accelerating new innovations, such as treatments, vaccines, and diagnostics. But as the declaration delved into particular health challenges, recognition of the importance of research and development (R&D) was somewhat inconsistent.

On the positive side, leaders committed to promoting R&D to tackle AMR, noting the ongoing work by the Global AMR R&D Hub, first established under the German G20 presidency to foster international agenda setting and collaboration on research for new antibiotics and treatments. They also called on members and the hub to “analyze push and pull mechanisms to identify best models for AMR R&D.” It is constructive that the G20 committed to moving this agenda forward, as growing drug resistance is complicating the fight against leading global killers, such as malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS, which heads of state reaffirmed their commitment to end. A lack of market incentive remains a barrier to spurring new antimicrobial and drug development.

AMR is just one emerging threat in our increasingly interconnected world, so we were pleased to see the G20 once again put a spotlight on the importance of improving public health preparedness and the need for sustainable financing mechanisms to prevent and respond to health crises like the current Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo. We were, however, disappointed to see no recognition of the role of R&D and health technologies in enhancing preparedness. Just two years ago, the G20 health ministers, under the German presidency, pledged strong support for collaborative efforts for R&D preparedness, including the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations [CEPI] and ongoing work under the World Health Organization’s R&D Blueprint.

Despite this criticism, last week’s G20 Summit remains a significant political win for global health advocates—and that’s important to recognize. It was just two years ago that global health, and R&D for global health, featured for the first time ever as part of the G20 leaders’ declaration. With so many pressing global challenges from migration, to climate change, to the impact of disruptive technological innovation, it is promising to see G20 leaders continue to position global health as a priority area for international action and as a critical driver of economic development.

In a twist on previous G20 presidencies, last week’s Leaders’ Summit marked a mid-way point in this year’s G20 ministerial process, rather than its usual annual conclusion. With the G20 Health Ministerial Meeting set to take place in October, it is now vital that health ministers build on the positive foundation set at the Leaders’ Summit to put in place more concrete action plans and financial resources to realize the G20’s global health commitments—that rightfully place R&D as a central driver in achieving these goals.

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