How do we best prevent, prepare for, and respond to pandemics?

The G20 member states have taken the first steps towards strengthening the global health system. But we have much more work to do.

A little girl in glasses and a white T-shirt and pale blue face mask gets a COVID vaccination as her mother holds her hand
Celestia, a 7-year-old student, holds her mother Angela while receiving her first dose of China's Sinovac Biotech vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at her school, in Jakarta, Indonesia, January 7, 2022 [Willy Kurniawan/Reuters]

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we have all been reminded of the adage: “Health is like money, we never have a true idea of its value until we lose it.” Well, as a former banker, current Health Minister of Indonesia, and this year’s chair of the G20’s health track, I want to stress the importance of both health and the economy, and the interdependence between the two.

Earlier this week, I had the privilege and honour to preside over the first G20 Health Ministerial Meeting and Joint Financial and Health Ministerial Meeting.

Delegations from the world’s 20 largest economies convened in the Special Region of Yogyakarta to discuss how we can better prevent, prepare for, and respond to future pandemics. I am pleased to announce that the G20 member states have taken the first steps toward strengthening the global health system and ensuring health and prosperity for all.

Progress to date: strengthening the global health system

The G20’s discussions at the first Health Ministerial Meetings have focused on five priority areas.

First, the G20 has agreed to mobilise financial resources for pandemic prevention, preparedness and response by agreeing to establish a new Financial Intermediary Fund (FIF). This fund aims to fill the financial gap needed to adequately respond to global health emergencies, estimated to be $10.5bn and felt most sharply by low- and middle-income countries. To date, the FIF has already seen over $1.1bn committed by several countries and organisations, with many more pledging to contribute in due course.

Second, the G20 member states have committed to work closely with the World Health Organisation (WHO) to establish a permanent coordinating platform that will work towards providing emergency medical countermeasures during health crises. Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have all witnessed first hand the delays in the provision of personal protective equipment (PPE), testing and vaccines. We must learn from this experience and act accordingly by having a standing coordination mechanism, which is ready to provide a timely and effective response to future health crises, wherever they may be.

Third, G20 countries expressed their support for the principle of global genomic data sharing, which has proven to be a key element of our collective efforts to monitor pathogens of concern that have pandemic potential. As chair of the G20 health track, it is my intention to take this agreement one step further to push for the establishment of a global network of genomic surveillance labs. This network should be facilitated by strengthened global data-sharing mechanisms, standards and protocols – all of which are the focus of ongoing discussions among the G20. This proposal will equip our global scientific community with the necessary data-sharing platforms to always be on the lookout for new viruses and in turn enable governments to respond quickly and effectively to emerging health crises.

Fourth, there has been important progress in the development of globally interoperable digital vaccine certificate verification mechanisms for international travellers. What this means is that international travellers may, in the near future, be able to verify their vaccination status using a single QR code that can be read and processed in any destination. This is certainly a step in the right direction to promote global mobility and accelerate global economic recovery, and I am happy to announce that a G20 pilot of this new system is already in the works.

Fifth, there is an increasing willingness among G20 countries to create an expanded network of research and manufacturing hubs for vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics across the globe. Low- and middle-income countries often suffer from the inability to develop and supply medical treatments to their populations in a timely and equitable way because of the skewed geographical distribution of research and manufacturing hubs in high-income countries. The G20’s support for a more proportionate geographical distribution of these hubs will go a long way to ensure that no country is left behind in future health crises.

From earthquakes, mountains rise

In the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity. In this case, it is the opportunity for G20 member states to come together and build a stronger global health architecture for future generations. I have outlined above the encouraging first steps that we, the G20, have agreed to push forward to better prevent, prepare for and respond to global health crises. And I will continue to work tirelessly with my counterparts across the G20 to continue this momentum.

But our window to make lasting changes is narrow, and I therefore call on all my colleagues to seize this opportunity in the run-up to the G20 Leader’s Summit in November. Let us continue to make the necessary financial commitments, coordinate our collective efforts, share useful information, and be as inclusive as possible to bolster our efforts to recover together, and to recover stronger.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.