Analysis

2022 – a landmark year in global health?

As we embark on a new year in global health, Arabella Moore reflects on the progress in 2021 and the opportunities to drive progress in 2022.

2021 saw incredible advances in areas of global health that pose significant challenges to populations in all parts of the world. The WHO’s recommendation for a malaria vaccine for children, the introduction of a licensed Ebola vaccine, new global plans to tackle meningitis, and the launch of the Global Diabetes Compact represented major step-changes in the way we tackle the world’s biggest killers.

And of course the world rallied to get control of the COVID-19 pandemic. By October 2021, healthcare workers had delivered more than 7 billion doses of the COVID-19 vaccine globally, just 10 months after the first COVID-19 vaccine received approval.

Nevertheless, the pandemic has had a catastrophic effect on so many lives – both directly and indirectly. The WHO speculates that it is likely to halt two decades of global progress towards universal health coverage (UHC), having triggered the worst economic crisis since the 1930s and badly disrupted health services. It is estimated that 23 million children missed out on routine vaccines in 2020, the largest number in over a decade – increasing risks from preventable diseases such as measles and polio. And over half of the countries WHO surveyed between June and October 2021 reported disruptions to services for diabetes, cancer screening and treatment, and hypertension management.

The impacts of COVID-19 are far-reaching and the resilience of health systems, of equitable access, and of advances in technology and innovation, has never been more pressing.

At MHP Mischief our Global Health work spans a wide range of health challenges that have been exacerbated by the pandemic and put strategies off-course. But we are also seeing opportunities to learn, improve, and innovate.

The pandemic has exposed the limits of health system resilience, underscoring the need to build them back up to better deliver on both UHC and health security. But, as the World Economic Forum (WEF) highlights, there is ‘a new appreciation of the importance of health’ and this is reflected across all sectors. “On an unprecedented scale, companies want to be engaged in matters relating to health. From the C-suite down deep into supply chains, there is a recognition that health underpins wealth – and nearly everyone is keen to play a part.” Whether through new public-private partnerships, financial investment and on-the-ground support, companies are bringing their innovation and resources to join in the global recovery.

One such example – the Partnership for Health System Sustainability and Resilience (PHSSR) – has been initiated by the London School of Economics (LSE), WEF, and AstraZeneca, motivated by a shared commitment to improving population health, through and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. From new models of care, to innovative financing mechanisms and breakthrough technologies, PHSSR aims to make change happen, by identifying transferrable solutions with the greatest potential, and supporting their adoption to deliver better health and better care for all.

In the spirit of ‘building back better’, 2022 is a crucial year to put the world back on track with its global commitments. This will be a significant year for governing the 2030 Agenda and maintaining political engagement in the critical environmental goals agreed at November’s COP26 last year.

We are set to see a more integrated approach to tackling health challenges deeply affecting both the planet and its people. The global governing platforms of the World Health Assembly (May), High-level Political Forum (July), UN General Assembly (UNGA) (September) and COP27 (November) are touted as momentous opportunities this year to take into account the different and particular impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic across all Sustainable Development Goals and the integrated and co-dependent nature of the Goals.

After the tumultuous years of 2020 and 2021, there is a clear sense that the world wants to see itself put back on track, that all eyes are now on health, and there is a new understanding of the interconnected world that we live in. This is set to be a landmark year for the health of our people and planet – and we are proud to be part of it.

If you want to find out more about our work to help organisations tackle major challenges in Global Health, please contact Arabella Moore (arabella.moore@mhpc.com).