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Experts Discuss a Potential Global Public Health Convention in University of Miami-Led Advisory Meeting

Distinguished global public health experts, academic leaders, parliamentarians, and journalists convened in a virtual advisory meeting held to discuss the development of a global public health convention for the 21st century.

Earlier this year, José Szapocznik, Ph.D., chair emeritus of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine’s Department of Public Health Sciences, was awarded a grant by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), a global non-profit organization based in Los Angeles. AHF has operations in 14 states in the U.S., including Florida, as well as in 43 other countries worldwide.

The aim of the AHF grant is to develop, in conjunction with the AHF Global Public Health Institute at the University of Miami – a partnership between UM and AHF – a global public health convention plan.

The convention would identify the principles on which to build a process and mechanism for increasing global health security against the spread of infectious diseases, as well as to improve infectious disease pandemic preparedness and rapid response.

A meeting, led by the Department of Public Health Sciences and the AHF Global Public Health Institute at UM, took place virtually on June 4, 2020, where Dr. Szapocznik and Jorge Saavedra M.D., M.P.H., M.H.P.M, executive director of the AHF Public Health Institute at UM, served as moderators.

President Julio Frenk and Michael Weinstein, president and founder of AHF, gave welcoming remarks at the advisory meeting, as well as emphasized the importance of global cooperation.

“It’s really a pleasure to host this now virtual meeting and to see everyone,” President Frenk said, as the advisory meeting was initially going to be held on campus. “We're all united by a strong conviction about the value of global cooperation and healthy global governance. Today, more than ever before, we are witnessing just how important it is.”

“AHF’s original thinking on the need for a global public health convention started several years ago when our own staff, in Sierra Leone and Liberia, who were devoted to providing HIV services, suddenly confronted the need to respond to the Ebola outbreak. During that crisis, we lost a medical doctor and a lab technician,” said Mr. Weinstein. “We are very excited to support and be part of this joint effort based at the UM.”

In the months prior to the meeting, each participant had been interviewed to develop an understanding of the facilitators and obstacles to implementing existing international conventions that address global public health security. This information was shared with the advisory group members who used the meeting to continue to develop a shared vision of how to better protect the world against future pandemics.

Key stakeholders held fruitful conversations throughout the meeting, answering, and discussing the following questions: 

  • What body is needed to ensure the world’s public health security? Is that a new or existing organization?
  • What characteristics should that body have?
  • How much autonomy and authority should such a body have?
  • How could it be funded?
  • How should it be governed and who needs to be involved in its governance?

They suggested that while there is a need for a global organization to coordinate the effort, every country must develop the capacity and political determination to stop novel pathogens before they spread beyond their borders.

“We now fully understand that as a result of globalization, pandemics of novel pathogens will occur with increasing frequency. Countries must enter into a new convention that will more effectively protect us from the spread of novel pathogens in the 21st Century,” said Dr. Szapocznik. “Countries will have to share their authority with a global organization that will be mandated to coordinate planning and strategic interventions to prevent future pandemics.”

“We are not starting from scratch, in 2015, AHF joined an independent panel of global health experts convened by Dr. Julio Frenk, the Harvard Global Health Institute and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine to assess the global response to Ebola in West Africa,” Dr. Saavedra said. “Results and recommendations were published in The Lancet and the British Medical Journal. We are certain that this new effort led by the UM team and fed with inputs from more than 25 policy experts from all regions of the world will, together with lessons we are learning under the current COVID-19 pandemic, have a bigger impact.”

“When we began to plan our initiative last summer, we never imagined that our work would be informed by the worst pandemic in a century. One concern has been that countries attend to pandemics when they occur and quickly de-prioritize pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response,” said Dr. Szapocznik. “It is unfortunate, but because of the human, economic, and possibly political devastation that has been caused by COVID-19, we believe that countries are more ready to act today that at any other time in a century.”

The final results of this project will be presented at the UNITE conference in Portugal in September 2020. UNITE is a global parliamentarians’ network to end infectious diseases, composed of people who were or are currently parliamentarians in their countries.  

Based on UNITE’s input, the document will be further modified to ensure that it represents the views of UNITE’s members.

Written by Amanda Torres
Published on June 25, 2020