UN General Assembly: An Opportunity for Governments and the Private Sector to Join Forces and Fight COVID-19

The United Nations (UN) General Assembly, convening virtually this year for its 75th annual meeting , will tackle the world’s most pressing challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic remains at the forefront, presenting an unprecedented and urgent opportunity for leaders to work together to curb the pandemic and improve global health. In this historic moment, it’s more important than ever that governments and the private sector join forces.

Innovation, driven by the private sector, will remain central to efforts to discover, develop and implement new ways to fight COVID-19. The General Assembly recognized this when it adopted a resolution in early September that encouraged countries to “work in partnership with all relevant stakeholders to increase research and development funding for vaccines and medicines” and to “bolster coordination, including with the private sector, towards rapid development, manufacturing and distribution” of COVID-19 technologies.

Global health leaders have repeatedly called for “whole-of-society” solutions to tough problems like COVID-19. World leaders included this theme in a declaration for the seventy-fifth anniversary of the UN’s founding. In the UN75 Declaration, countries vow to “boost partnerships,” recognizing that “today’s challenges require cooperation not only across borders but also across the whole of society.” The UN75 Declaration states that this will require engagement with all sectors, including private industry.

The UN: “Today’s challenges require cooperation not only across borders but also across the whole of society.”

In the fight against COVID-19, the world is already benefitting from public-private partnerships, with collaborations to find new, innovative solutions, identify novel applications for previous discoveries or seek opportunities to scale, and increase access to needed therapies. Cooperation between governments and private sector manufacturers will be vital as new vaccines and coronavirus treatments come online. The entire society must be working toward the same goal: making sure all patients in all countries have access to safe, affordable vaccines and treatments for COVID-19.

To advance this goal, UN Secretary-General Guterres, WHO Director-General Tedros, and other leaders will host on September 30 a UN General Assembly side event on the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator. Critically, the ACT Accelerator included industry as a founding member, alongside governments and major civil society groups.

At this year’s UN General Assembly, world leaders should recognize this progress and work to strengthen partnership between sectors. Governments have a key role to play. For example, countries can set policies to allow innovation to flourish, such as strong protections for intellectual property. These intellectual property incentives are vital to spurring long-term and extensive investment into research and for building the capacity to fight future pandemics and disease.  

We ask UN delegates to acknowledge that COVID-19 initiatives developed without consulting the private sector would be counterproductive, no matter how well intentioned their goals. Rather, governments and international organizations need to actively facilitate dialogue with the private sector so it can bring its valuable experience in innovation, manufacturing and distribution to the table.

As the world grapples with extraordinary global challenges at the UN General Assembly, now is the time for all parts of society to come together to fight COVID-19. Drawing on the lessons learned in this pandemic, this kind of collaboration will help us fight disease and improve health and wellbeing worldwide for decades to come.

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