The fluidity in the ebb and flow of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to take us through uncharted waters as we gradually absorb the signs urging us to just “live with it” somehow. Even the modified springtime message from the epidemiologists that we might at least manage to get past the “acute” phase of this pandemic by the end of 2021 seems to have lost its resonance. Here we are in mid-July 2021 with a global death toll passing the 4 million mark, and alarming reports about the highly contagious delta variant, the looming epsilon variant, urgent pleas (and even mandates) from the French president and the Italian prime minister to get vaccinated, crazy mixed messages in the UK, confusion about mask-wearing in the US, and dramatic upsurges in countries (like Indonesia this time) with low vaccination rates and limited access to available vaccine doses. At least there is a renewed effort to work things through the COVAX Facility, both with regard to the more equitable distribution of available vaccine doses and, quite encouragingly, to increasing and diversifying the manufacturing capacity for vaccines but also for therapeutics and diagnostics. Here are my personal impressions of what this means for global and multi-stakeholder collaboration. Continue reading “Whither COVAX? A Progress Report on the Vision of Global and Multi-stakeholder Collaboration”
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to feature a lively debate on the balancing of scientific and policy perspectives – most recently on the search for verifiable evidence on the origins of this particular coronavirus. From the beginning of the pandemic, I have been writing commentaries on the importance of applying both a political lens and a scientific lens to the management of the pandemic. At the time, we were all understandably concerned about the risk of political actions that were clearly contrary to the scientific evidence. But that should not have led us away from the value of incorporating the science into a workable political framework for collaborative action. I still embrace the need for balance – combining the scientific guidance on who needs to wear a mask, for example, with political guidance on how this should be implemented in specific circumstances.
A second interest of mine has been to write about the remarkable flowering of global and multi-stakeholder collaboration that the pandemic has inspired – in vaccine development most strikingly but also in the efforts to ensure global sharing of vaccines and therapeutic needs. In fact, the multi-stakeholder nature of this collaboration has been a particular focus of my ongoing commentaries.
With these themes in mind, I have started a compendium here of the proposals and actions that continue to inspire me to write about the global and multi-stakeholder response to the pandemic. This list will be regularly updated.
The fluidity of the pandemic was vividly apparent last week when we all heard about the sharp and unexpected reversal of the previous US position in support of intellectual property rights at the World Trade Organization. I had just expressed my own assumption a couple of days before, that the crisis that was unfolding in India (and in South America) was wreaking havoc on the COVAX Facility and on the very premise of an equitable and global response to the pandemic. And here came another dramatic change in the policy landscape – one that has inspired me to look more optimistically on the future of the global path after all! I am a bit more optimistic about the prospects for the COVAX Facility under the circumstances, even if the waiver announcement from the White House may seem to work against the interests of a global response through the COVAX Facility. Continue reading “Whither COVAX? (updated with optimism)”
Up until now, I have been speaking up for a global response to the pandemic – a globally defined, equitable sharing of all the tools we can possibly find by working together. The Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator initiative that was launched by the WHO a year ago is the prime example of this approach. I have been especially enthusiastic about the COVAX Facility that was launched as a part of this initiative to bring countries together to pool available vaccines for a globally equitable distribution based on population. But the huge surge in India upends the formula for the equitable sharing of available vaccines. It may well be that the formula had already lost traction because of the rationale for dealing with the second and third waves of serious outbreaks in the US and Europe. For me, though, it is the Indian surge that has led me to question the whole business of how we can achieve vaccine equity. It has become far more than a question of the equitable distribution of an existing but limited supply of vaccines; it has also become a question of how to dramatically – and rapidly – expand the actual supply. Continue reading “Whither COVAX?”
Vaccine Nationalism appears in multiple forms, it seems. And it is unlikely that popular support for a global perspective will ever expand to counter any of it. At least not for the current pandemic. Here is a personal story – but one that is accompanied by a note about the global context – and a lamentation. It’s all about a new bargain – a regional one, not necessarily a global one – for another 1 billion doses of vaccines (good news) – not for just anybody in need but for certain groups of people in need; not for now but for a year and a half or more from now; not for the sake of humanitarian concern but for the sake of shared national interests. Some might speculate that it’s all about US versus China, while others might insist that it isn’t. But it also has repercussions for global concerns spilling over into economic recovery from the pandemic, climate change, gender equality and even the future of global technology trends. Continue reading “Personal Lamentations on Vaccine Nationalism”
Congratulations once again to Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria for her appointment as the WTO’s 7th Director-General of the World Trade Organization. How thrilling it was a couple of weeks ago to know that the barriers to her appointment had come down. In anticipation of the beginning of her tenure on the first of March, I would like to focus here on one of the reasons her leadership of the WTO is so important – her clear grasp of the pandemic crisis and of what the WTO can do to make a significant difference in fighting its global consequences. I am convinced that the WTO is an ideal forum to mobilize a global response to shift the world away from the vaccine nationalism that has proven so difficult to resist. This may not be the only issue on a very full agenda of WTO reform challenges, but it is excellent timing for a person with Dr. Ngozi’s qualifications to arrive on the scene with this as the most immediate crisis for her to manage. Continue reading “Shared Reflections on Dr. Ngozi’s Third Way and the Opportunities for a New Direction at the WTO”
Good news keeps coming on the US return to multilateralism: The selection of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to be the next Director-General of the World Trade Organization has finally been cleared for official approval by the WTO General Council (which is now scheduled for 15 February 2021). Just a week ago, two different but coordinated announcements were issued. One came from the Korean government announcing the withdrawal of their candidate, Yoo Myung-hee; the other came from the Biden administration announcing that the US would join the rest of the consensus of the WTO members in support of the Nigerian candidate, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. This was a truly diplomatic way to clear the way for the one without embarrassing the other.
I am personally pleased to congratulate Ms. Okonjo-Iweala on her impending success, and I congratulate Ms. Yoo Myung-hee and the other candidates for the gracious manner in which they welcomed the outcome. What a contrast to the domestic scene in the US! Above and beyond this contrast, however, I would like to focus this note more broadly on what Ms. Okonjo-Iweala’s leadership means for the WTO – and for the changing world of multilateralism. Continue reading “Great News for the WTO – and for the Multilateralism of Today”
Following the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris on 20 January 2021, we have been treated to a lively first 10 days – announcing new directions on COVID-19, climate, racial equity, the economy, health care, immigration, and restoring America’s global standing. While all these initiatives are very welcome, my focus here has been on the Biden Administration’s top domestic priority of controlling the pandemic – but from my usual global and multi-stakeholder perspective. And the good news on that score is that the US has returned to linking that domestic priority to active engagement in global health. I shared my preliminary reflections on this good news last week (21 January 2021 and available here), and I have appreciated the lively reader comments and questions. Here is an update at the 10-day mark for the unfolding of the Biden Administration’s busy agenda on pandemic and health issues, along with my responses to the points raised by readers about the nature of US engagement globally and the prospects for a global response to the pandemic. Continue reading “Further Reflections on the US Return to Global Health”
The good news of the “day after”, above and beyond the happy sensation of savoring the smooth flow of democracy in action, was the carry-through on seeing the adults back in the room on multilateralism in global health and the pandemic. What do I mean? Well, the day that I am referring to is 20 January 2021, the day that was filled with pomp and ceremony (but no crowds) for the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to lead the United States government. On the day itself, President Biden signed over a dozen executive orders to put things back in place, as it were. And on the “day after”, we witnessed the follow-through on a new national strategy on the COVID-19 response and pandemic preparedness. Here are some preliminary reflections on the good news, with the caveat that the journey is not yet over. Continue reading “So Far, So Good on the US at the WHO and at the COVAX Facility”
As we come to the end of 2020, we are taking some time to recall those things that we didn’t get to celebrate together. Fair enough. It isn’t that I thought of gender when I sat down to do an end-of-year reflection of this awful 2020. Rather, I just happened to be sitting down to write down my thoughts on gender on this penultimate day of 2020 and thought to myself: I should prepare an outline of what my main points might be. And oh yes, one of those main points is that this year of 2020 was the 25-year anniversary of the Beijing Platform and Declaration on the Rights of Women. Major events and visible displays of the anniversary had been planned for Mexico in April and then France in May, but then the whole process leading up to these events was abruptly suspended, and the main events were postponed until 2021. Continue reading “Gender 2021: Post-Pandemic? Post-Beijing?”