GHLS Blog Series: Preventing Pandemics at the Source & Dalberg Catalyst

November 22, 2022

The Global Health Landscape Symposium is just a few weeks away! This year’s convening will focus on generating progress and seizing on the potential of global health that has been so clearly illustrated throughout the COVID-19 crisis. We wanted to get a jump start on the conversation by talking to the organizations that will be joining us on December 7 and 8. Today, we are speaking with Lina Dieudonné, Program Associate at Dalberg Catalyst.

The last in-person Global Landscape Symposium took place in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic. What are the biggest challenges you and your organization have encountered in the three years since then?

The COVID-19 pandemic was the catalyst for the creation of our organization. For years, scientists had warned that a zoonotic pandemic was likely to emerge. When COVID-19 hit, our co-founders jumped into action. They convened leading experts and organizations to start a conversation about how to prevent pandemics at the source — at the point of pathogen spillover from animals to humans. This is how our coalition was born. Today, we have 20 member organizations working across public health, conservation, human rights, science, health justice, and Indigenous rights.

One of the main challenges we have faced is that, in the fast-evolving context of the COVID-19 response, policymakers have had limited bandwidth to engage with the topic of spillover prevention. They have been focused, rightfully so, on containing the spread of COVID-19. And, more recently, they have started to reflect on building the capacity needed to contain future outbreaks. But, many of them still fail to see the bigger picture: we can do more than contain outbreaks; we can also prevent them.

There are proven actions that can significantly reduce spillover risk. Implementing them requires cross-sectoral dialogue and action, particularly between public health, animal health, agriculture, and the environment. As we transition out of the COVID-19 pandemic, global leaders must focus on developing the cross-sectoral collaboration needed to reduce spillover risk and prevent future pandemics.

What are the most positive, encouraging developments that have emerged from this time period?

Some of the most significant developments of the past few years are the launch of the Pandemic Fund and the negotiations on the international instrument for pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response (PPPR). These are much-needed mechanisms to coordinate action and mobilize funding to prevent future pandemics.

We are also starting to see increasing openness to inter-sectoral collaboration. Many people have realized that human health depends on the health of animals and ecosystems. The One Health approach has gained significant momentum. This is reflected in global efforts such as the launch of the One Health High-Level Expert Panel, which advised the Quadripartite (WHO, WOAH, FAO, UNEP) on their One Health Joint Plan of Action. We have also seen positive developments at the national level. Various countries — France is one example — have created inter-ministerial groups to provide cross-sectoral inputs into global processes on pandemic prevention. Finally, several government agencies and private foundations have started prioritizing One Health in their funding.

Support for our work is growing and we will continue building on it to ensure a comprehensive approach to pandemic prevention is implemented globally.

The title of this year’s Symposium is “Meeting the Moment.” How do you think the global health community can best meet this unique moment in time?

We all wish to avoid the devastating impacts of future pandemics. But, if we do not address the major source of pandemic risk, namely spillover, it is only a matter of time until we experience another COVID-19. All viral pandemics over the past century, most likely including COVID-19, originated from spillover. Spillover events are happening at an increasing rate due to human encroachment on nature. Fortunately, we know how to reduce spillover risk. But, as mentioned above, it requires expertise from sectors beyond global health.

To meet the moment, the global health community must make a conscious effort to invite stakeholders from other sectors to participate, as equals, in PPPR efforts. These efforts will only succeed if they prioritize actions to reduce spillover risk alongside other PPPR actions. This includes the international instrument for pandemic prevention and response, which must explicitly commit governments to take action to reduce the risk of spillover. Similarly, the Pandemic Fund must include spillover prevention in the scope of its calls for proposal and it must allow organizations beyond global health to become implementing entities. Now, more than ever is the time to break silos.

This year is Global Health Council’s 50th anniversary. In your view, what has been the organization’s impact over the years? What would you like to see it do/achieve in the coming years?

Preventing Pandemics at the Source only joined the Global Health Council (GHC) recently. But our limited experience as members has already demonstrated the incredible impact of the organization. It is a vital platform for information-sharing, coordination, and mobilization among members of the global health community. It has allowed us to engage more deeply with relevant processes such as the Pandemic Fund, to connect with influential stakeholders globally and in the U.S., and to amplify our message through events such as the Global Health Landscape Symposium.

We are grateful for GHC’s willingness to integrate our message in its calls to action and for its engagement at the intersection of climate and health. In the coming years, we believe there is an opportunity for GHC to engage even more deeply with the “One Health” approach. This could be facilitated by encouraging animal health and conservation organizations, who are not traditionally considered members of the global health community, to become members. These organizations would enhance the work of GHC by bringing expertise on drivers of global health that are traditionally overlooked, such as those related to human encroachment on nature.

Is there anything else you’d like us to know?

Join us to learn more about the comprehensive approach needed to prevent future pandemics at our Global Health Landscape Symposium panel, “Preventing pandemics at the source: win-win strategies for people and the planet,” on Thursday, December 8th, 10:45 am-12 PM.