betty August 26, 2021

SINGAPORE – The world could face a prolonged Covid-19 pandemic, and the most urgent priority is to vaccinate at least 60 per cent of every country’s population over the next year, said Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for Social Policies Tharman Shanmugaratnam on Wednesday (Aug 25).

He said global health security was dangerously underfunded and the World Health Organisation (WHO) needed more support to prevent future outbreaks which could come at any time.

Mr Tharman was speaking at a joint press conference in Geneva together with WHO director-general Tedros Ghebreyesus.

They had discussed the recommendations of the G-20 High Level Independent Panel (HLIP) on Financing the Global Commons for Pandemic Preparedness and Response, which the Senior Minister co-chairs with World Trade Organisation Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and former United States Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers.

Mr Tharman said: “What is clear is that global health security is dangerously underfunded. We are consequently vulnerable to both a prolonged Covid-19 pandemic, with repeated waves affecting all countries, as well as to future pandemics.” 

The first and most urgent priority is to implement the action plan set out by the WHO, International Monetary Fund and their multilateral partners to vaccinate at least 60 per cent of every country’s population over the next year, he added.

The panel in July released its recommendations, which are now being actively considered ahead of the G-20 ministerial meetings and summit in October.

Covid-19 is not a one-off disaster, said Mr Tharman. A new way of thinking about international cooperation is needed that moves away from thinking about funding for global health security in terms of foreign aid, to that of a strategic investment which has to be made for the good of the global community.

Multilateralism must also be strengthened by boosting support for the WHO, re-purposing international financial institutions, and establishing a new multilateral funding mechanism for global health security, he said.

The G-20 HLIP has proposed enhancing multilateral funding of the WHO through increased assessment-based contributions, which are dues that countries pay to be a member of an international organisation.

The financing of global public goods for resilience against climate change and pandemic security must be made part of the core mandates of the IMF, World Bank and other multilateral development banks, said Mr Tharman.

He observed that current funding for global health is raised by individual global health organisations on a siloed basis.

Hence, the G-20 HLIP has proposed the establishment of a Global Health Threats Fund to mobilise at least US$10 billion (S$13.5 billion) a year from the international community. This amount, when spread across a large number of countries on a fair and equitable basis, means national contributions that are less than 0.1 per cent of the annual budgets of almost all countries.

To ensure effective financial oversight and funding, the G-20 HLIP has also proposed an inclusive, G-20-plus board comprising health and finance ministers.

Mr Tharman stressed that the world cannot prevent recurring pandemics through incremental reforms to individual institutions, neither can it wait for a grand reconstruction of the global architecture.

“We must instead strengthen multilateralism,” he said. “The collective investments required as part of this deal are affordable. They will help us avoid blundering into pandemics again and again.

“We have to proceed with urgency. It will be economically and politically myopic, and morally indefensible, to defer the collective actions and investments that are both in the global interest and national interests of everyone.”