The Covid-19 crisis is a reminder of the relationship between health and the environment. The Ministerial Meeting of the Alliance for Multilateralism saw the launch of the “One Health” High Level Expert Council. This Council aims to gather and disseminate reliable information on the links between human, animal, and environmental health in a context of biodiversity erosion. The meeting also served as an opportunity to present the report of the Infodemics Working Group of the Forum on Information and Democracy and to reassert the right to reliable information.
Author: Sciences Po student Johannes Ludwig summarizes the debate session of the third edition of the Paris Peace Forum
Debate title: Strengthening the multilateral health architecture: Launch of the “One Health” high-level expert council
Date: 12 November 2020
The global Covid-19 pandemic drastically reminded us that human, animal, and environmental health are interconnected and interrelated. While this nexus has long been neglected both in policymaking and academia, the “One Health” approach is now at the front and center of the global health architecture.
The high-level panel “Strengthening the Multilateral Health Architecture” discussed the challenges and the opportunities for international cooperation in global health. Jean-Yves Le Drian, French Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, underlined the importance of multilateralism in the fight against the pandemic. Since the regulatory frameworks are highly fragmented and often sparse, he called for the harmonization and integration of existing approaches. The Access to Covid-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A) is exemplary of how multilateralism and cooperation can succeed. Heiko Maas, German Federal Foreign Minister, joined his French colleague in calling for integrated efforts in the fight against Covid-19. He reminded the audience that “we only value health when sickness comes” and urged the international community to boast and reform the multilateral health alliance. The Alliance for Multilateralism has taken a first step in this direction by declaring the “One Health” approach one of its priorities. Maas noted that the interdependence of human, animal, and planetary health ultimately leads to the insight that “no one is safe until everyone is safe”.
Dr. Monique Eloit, Director General of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), urged political leaders to focus on long-term improvements of the global health architecture. She warned that the Covid-19 pandemic has not been the first and might not be the last global health crisis. Since “diseases know no borders” neither between countries nor between species, the ongoing pandemic must lead to the consolidation of the “One Health” approach within a multilateral framework. Qu Dongyu, Director-General of the FAO, explained that the “One Health” approach had already been successful at the community level – now it’s up to the world community to continue this success at the global level: “United we stand, divided we fall.”
Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), joined the other panelists in welcoming the creation of the “One Health” High-Level Expert Council under the auspices of WHO, the FAO, the World Organization for Animal Health and UNEP. She stressed the interdependence between the loss of biodiversity, climate change, and environmental pollution and underlined that the global community will only be able to overcome the global pandemic if all three threats are addressed in an integrated manner.
Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, highlighted the need to strengthen both preparedness and response mechanisms. The efforts of the international community must be integrated into a multi-stakeholder approach with strong participation of the civil society.
Vivian Balakrishnan, Singaporean Minister of Foreign Affairs, warned that it would be short-sighted to assume that Covid-19 could be completely eradicated. In fact, the pandemic and other diseases are long-term challenges, and the development of vaccines is the most promising way to face them.
Jean-Yves Le Drian, Heiko Maas, and Naledi Pandor, South African Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, explicitly mentioned the importance of the fight against ‘infodemics’. The spread of false information and the spread of Covid-19 feed off each other and must therefore be comprehensively addressed. On the one hand, false information is a major obstacle for governments in mobilizing the population in the fight against Covid-19. On the other hand, the pandemic has drastically increased the spread of false information. Heiko Maas explained that the fight against false information is by no means directed against the freedom of expression. On the contrary, freedom of expression must be based upon reliable, transparent, and fact-based information.
The launch of the “One Health” High-Level Expert Council is seen as a promising step against the spread of both the virus and false information, as it fosters the exchange of scientific evidence. Naledi Pandor gave insights into the efforts of the African Union in the fight against misinformation and underlined that misinformation could be as deadly as the virus itself. In conclusion, she reminded her fellow panelists that the global efforts against the pandemic had to be aligned with the 2030 Agenda in order to leave no one behind.
By Johannes Ludwig