Letter from Loyce: COVID-19: Is the Global Health Megaphone on Mute?

March 23, 2020

No one can say that we didn’t see this coming. The global health community has been banging the drum about pandemic preparedness for many years. I would venture to say this is the very nightmare we have long feared. So why was the world caught flat footed in terms of COVID-19? Why has our message not broken through? And—when we have tamped down the immediate crisis—what can we do to ensure our voices are heard and necessary actions are taken going forward?

First and foremost, of course, we need to attend to the issue at hand. The response to COVID-19 will be prolonged, but it is also a scenario that will be repeated if we don’t keep our eye on the ball.

We must do two things at once.

Even as we take part in the ground fight, we have to be louder in our advocacy. This crisis starkly underscores the need to strengthen health systems in this country and around the world. So let us use this moment to push for policies and funding necessary to both fight COVID-19 and prepare for other outbreaks we know are around the corner.

There is no question that the U.S. has often stepped up when global public health is in jeopardy. There are many things about our legacy of which we can and should be proud. But now it’s time to step up in a way we have never done before.

Here’s the good news: the global health community knows what needs to be done. So it’s time we call on our past experiences to help inform a way forward.

For example, our community was a critical driver behind the development of the Global Health Security Agenda. During the 2014 Ebola crisis, Global Health Council, along with our partners throughout the community, pushed for and secured emergency funding along with a whole range of legislative actions to address the outbreak. In the aftermath, we parsed the approach in myriad ways to understand what worked, what didn’t, and what we needed to do differently in terms of global health security. We truly hoped that would result in real, sustained change. Certainly, a number of those plans and protocols have been called upon since, including in response to the more recent Ebola outbreak in the DRC – one that we are quietly seeing the end of today. And we’ve been successful working through our members to advance even more policies and funds such as the pending Global Health Security Act in Congress and supplemental funding for COVID-19. Still, our current situation makes clear that progress can all too often only be realized after a tragedy.

Here is what I propose we do now: In the short term, let’s apply the knowledge that we have collectively amassed throughout the global health community to help America and the world beat back this pandemic. We could take our cue from countries that have effectively (and rather immediately) demonstrated readiness and flattened their COVID-19 curve. As our own curve begins its decline, let us take a hard look at why our megaphone seems to have been on mute. Is this simply a common failure of public health messaging and messengers? Of decision makers? Of our culture, as a whole? At this point, we need to be clear eyed about the weaknesses of our approach to sounding the alarm and work to change course as needed.

Let us also not forget that we have a near-term opportunity to inform global health policy at the highest level in this country. The End Pandemics 2020 platform, of which GHC is a part, calls for all U.S. presidential candidates to commit to a bold global initiative that advances the following goals, through expanded investments, partnerships, and leadership:

  • Halt today’s pandemic killers;
  • Prevent coming disease outbreaks from becoming pandemics; and
  • Combat diseases exacerbated by climate change.

In addition to the congressional advocacy GHC leads through our global health security roundtable, we will be pressing the next administration to take these issues seriously.

We have a lot of work to do over the next weeks and months to help everyone understand the urgency at hand once and for all. For now, I encourage you to visit GHC’s COVID-19 online resources to stay informed of policy updates and our community’s response. Most importantly, please be safe and well as we work to get this crisis under control, then come back stronger advocates than ever.