WHO Executive Board Special Session Notes Progress, Collaboration

When the World Health Organization (WHO) Executive Board convened in early October for a special session on COVID-19, one theme came up in nearly every conversation: partnership. It was a timely reminder that beating this pandemic will require unprecedented collaboration among all parts of society.

As in previous meetings on COVID-19, delegates to the WHO emphasized collaboration, innovation, public-private cooperation and the need for joint address to overcome access barriers for treatments and vaccines. Delegates gave progress updates and outlined priorities to come as the pandemic reaches into the fourth quarter of 2020.

In his opening remarks, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, touted many advancements, including the launch and early results of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator global partnership, the deployment of tens of millions of rapid tests and support for vaccines and treatments. “All of this,” he noted, “has only been possible because of the power of partnership.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has especially shined a light on the role of partnership in driving innovative solutions. In its interim report, the WHO showcased progress through convening “international organizations, civil society and the private sector to scale up the development, manufacturing and equitable distribution of quality, safe, affordable and efficacious diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines for the COVID-19 response.”

“All of this [progress] has only been possible because of the power of partnership.”

- Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General

In less than six months, for example, the ACT Accelerator has combined “public- and private-sector expertise, from research and development to in-country delivery, and has harnessed the existing public health architecture for unprecedented collaboration” to establish “the world’s largest portfolio of vaccine candidates.”

The spirit of collaboration will continue to be critical, as the world awaits the approval and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and treatments. Countries and international organizations should work to sustain this spirit and encourage policies that will facilitate cross-sectoral cooperation. For example,  ensuring that a system of strong intellectual property rights remains intact will support efforts to address the pandemic by protecting innovators’ inventions, providing clear processes and frameworks to facilitate partnerships and incentivizing continued investment in innovation. Government leaders can also do more to consult scientists, civil society groups, the private sector, and universities about the right ways to drive innovation and find create new solutions to fight the pandemic.

As Dr. Tedros highlighted, “75 years after the birth of the United Nations, the need for national unity and global solidarity has never been more apparent. The only way forward is together.” Future advancements, as a result of public and private-sector innovators continue to join forces toward ending this pandemic, stand to improve global health.

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