International Collaboration More Important than EverBy Jan Hogewoning | Thu, 01/28/2021 - 17:33
Now, more than ever, we need to foster collaboration, by connecting ideas, individuals and institutions around the world, to overcome the crisis and emerge with more resilient, just and sustainable health systems. This was the message of Corin Robertson, UK Ambassador to Mexico, during the Mexico Health Summit on Thursday, Jan. 28. She emphasized that this pandemic knows no borders and no country has all the answers. Everyone, including scientists, are learning every day and it is crucial that we continue to share that knowledge with each other.
UK’s Role in International COVID-19 Efforts
Robertson pointed out that the UK has been working closely with international partners, like Mexico, the G7, G20, the UN, the EU, the Gavi Alliance, CEPI and COVAX, to ensure that adequate health responses are provided around the world. Last year, the UK supported Mexico’s Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard’s petition to the UN to make vaccines available to any country. In September 2020, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson presented a five-point plant with the aim to strengthen international collaboration to not just ensure vaccine access but also build more resilience against future pandemics. The five points, the ambassador detailed, are as follows:
- Setting up a worldwide network of zoonotic research hubs to spot a new pandemic before it starts.
- Developing manufacturing capacity for treatments and vaccines.
- Designing an early warning system to predict a coming health crisis, which would require a vast expansion of the ability to collect and analyze samples and distribute the findings, using health data-sharing agreements among all countries.
- Agreeing on global protocols to prepare for a future health emergency, which would include things such as information sharing and PPE supplies.
- Reducing trade barriers which have impeded a proper response against COVID-19.
The ambassador pointed out that her colleagues in the UK are working day-and-night to make this plan a reality. The UK has made significant contributions to global initiatives, including US$783.9 million to COVAX. In June 2020, the country hosted the Gavi Alliance summit, a program that is key in combating infectious disease and delivering vaccines to developing countries. The country has committed to donating US$453 million per year over a five-year period to this initiative, becoming its biggest contributor. Furthermore, it has donated up to US$343.2 million to CEPI to date.
The government is backing the collaboration between University of Oxford and AstraZeneca, which produced a low-cost vaccine that does not require significantly low temperatures during transport, allowing it to be delivered to many more countries. Regionally, the UK participated in pandemic summits in Argentina, Chile and Cuba. Also, the UK and Mexico organized a meeting with ministers from different Latin American countries focused on vaccine access. She also highlighted another program which involved the UK, Mexico, South-Africa and Brazil which aims to improve the safety of seniors living in retirement homes, among other objectives.
Adapting Embassy Programs to COVID-19 Response
The ambassador explained how several programs at the embassy had been adapted to address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. One example is Better Health, which used to focus on training medical personnel and strengthening primary care for diabetes and obesity patients. During the pandemic, the program became a platform for sharing experiences between UK and Mexican professionals on how hospital resources could be re-allocated most effectively, how remote care could be best provided using technology, how tests could be carried out without risking individuals with comorbidity conditions and how to better model data, among other topics. For its Cities of the Future program, the embassy met with the Secretariat of Mobility of Mexico City to explore how post-COVID-19 mobility could be more inclusive, while also upholding sanitary precautions.
The ambassador also mentioned the fintech Caravan. This was launched by the embassy to provide SMEs, particularly those led by women, with workshops and events where they could learn about the benefits of adopting financial technology to help them through this economic crisis and drive growth. Robertson went on to mention the collaboration between the embassy and Mexican organizations in combating domestic violence, which has grown significantly during the months of home confinement. Another project was launched to reduce the gender gap in terms of wages, which was another issue exacerbated by the pandemic.
Key Lessons From the Pandemic
The ambassador noted the most important lessons that the pandemic has taught us:
- The need for international collaboration to develop science and innovation.
- The need to construct robust health supply systems through input from a multitude of actors beyond the health sector.
- The importance of business participation in this process. The ambassador mentioned the collaboration between University College London (UCL) and Mercedes F1 in developing a ventilator, which was then commercialized for the Mexican market by a Mexican company called Baja Ventura Breathing.
Mental Health: A Silent Giant
Finally, the ambassador emphasized the need to have an open and stigma-free conversation about mental health. She pointed out that, partly due to this pandemic, it was estimated that up to 15 million people in the UK are in need of more mental health support services.
She ended her contribution to the event expressing her gratitude and admiration for frontline health workers.